Time will Trell: Why Mitchell is a tantalising pick for Origin II – but not replacing Suaalii at centre


Joseph Suaalii will be spending the next month on the sidelines after his Origin debut nightmare, so the Blues will have to bring in a centre – but the reshuffle could lead to an entirely new-look interchange pick.

Regardless of whether the Roosters centre elects to plead guilty on the grade-two reckless charge, coach Michael Maguire has his arms tied on picking a new combo.

Matt Burton should be the frontrunner over the left centre role, having already won a premiership there at Penrith – where he has also proved a handful as a ball-runner first, and playmaker second.

Latrell Mitchell of the Blues fends off Kalyn Ponga in the 2019 State of Origin series. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

His position on the left side is not up for debate. Armed with a deadly left boot, it’s a skill NSW truly missed on Wednesday night, not only to get out of trouble, but to provide an attacking threat from the opposition 40 and closer.

Before a dazed Reece Walsh was helped from the field, the No.1 actually demonstrated the strength of employing a left-boot kicker next to five-eighth Tom Dearden.

He was Queensland’s first end-of-set clearer, and it looked polished. No doubt having Walsh beside the five-eighth helps Dearden focus on his strengths – running the ball and finding a support player off his hip.

Enough about the Maroons, let’s get into where this gets interesting for the Blues come game two.

Jesse Ramien or even Zac Lomax are both worthy contenders for the vacant spot – although seeing Burton has been involved in the camp, it seems more appropriate to give him a chance. His try-scoring ability at the Dogs this season highlights his threat with the ball in hand (eight from 11 games), plus he is a big body and capable defender.

Stephen Crichton should retain his spot on the right edge. He and Lomax looked ominous together, while Crichton also plays on the right side for the Dogs. Wow, two Bulldogs players in the centres – Bankstown would be loving this. Cameron Ciraldo not so much.

Whether you like Latrell Mitchell or not, when he’s aggressive and firing you want him in your side. Ask any Roosters supporter and they will tell you they fear facing the big Rabbitohs No.1. When he plays the Chooks he lifts to a level fuelled on ferocity and a hot-head. It’s intimidating and imposing – just like Spencer Leniu was.

But Mitchell should not get a recall in the centres, nor at fullback. Slot the Bunnies brute in the No.17 jersey.

Imagine a pumped-up Mitchell charging into the Origin arena at the 30-minute mark. Sure he can play centre or fullback, but the truth is, he is large and fast enough to be a force in the middle or an edge.

So who does he replace? Haumole Olakau’atu or Hudson Young are expendable. The two were largely ineffective in a game where the NSW middles also struggled.

Latrell Mitchell of the Blues celebrates with team mates (Photo by Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images)

While they are big bodies and strong line-runners, neither possesses game-breaking ability at this level. They also played 23 minutes a piece and aren’t true middles, so when Liam Martin and Angus Crichton play full minutes, having both players on the bench is an overkill.

The next issue to address is the perception that Mitchell isn’t a team player and all he cares about is his image so he won’t want to play off the bench.

In contemporary Origin, coming off the bench has a certain aura. Someone who can spark change and is an unknown – a player you can’t predict. It’s a tag Mitchell would relish.

Mitchell is four kilograms heavier than Young and 11 centimetres greater, meaning his size on the edge has no question marks.

Cameron McInnes is 11 kilograms lighter. Why not take a punt on a dynamic, versatile back who has already proved his worth in state ranks?

The obvious benefit of having the two-time premiership winner on the bench is to run parallel Billy Slater’s smart ploy. To cover all bases and keep the team rolling as natural as possible. If practically anyone bar the halfback goes down, Mitchell has the experience and flair to fill the role.

What about calling him on for a second stint in the 65th minute, where Mitchell gallops into a short ball from a scrum set piece. Send him straight at Dearden.

Origin showcases the game’s best – Mitchell is one of rugby league’s physical enigmas. Chuck him in Madge at the MCG on June 26, the Blues need his x-factor.

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