Coach has a clear message for Mitchell

Margie McDonald

Westpac NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire said he had a clear message for Latrell Mitchell after the South Sydney match-winner made his return to the Origin side today for the first time in three years.

“The thing I’m really keen for Latrell to do is just be here, be himself, and play footy. That’s what he’s really good at,” Maguire said as the players arrived in camp for Game Two of the Ampol State of Origin series.

They will remain in Sydney until tomorrow before heading to their base camp in the Blues Mountains and then onto Melbourne next Sunday (23 June).

Game Two is at the MCG on Wednesday 26 June.

Mitchell, who has played seven Origin games and been part of three series-winning teams (2018-19, 2021), has been named in the centres for the suspended Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii. Mitchell recently made his return from injury and has put in starring performances for the Rabbitohs.

“He’s playing great footy, and I think everyone can see that,” Maguire said.

“He’s getting around with a smile on his face; I went out and watched him play and he’s got a lot of spirit about what he’s doing and that resonates in his footy.

“We all know he’s a very talented, world-class player. He’s showing that, especially over the last month. He’s been growing towards what we know Latrell can do.”

Mitchell is one of five changes from the Game One line-up.

He joins Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses, Souths skipper Cam Murray, Sydney Roosters utility Connor Watson, who will make his debut from the bench, while Penrith fullback Dylan Edwards has recovered from a quad injury which sidelined him for the opening game.

Maguire said the choice of halfback and lock were difficult ones.

“They are always tough decisions to make. I always make sure I’m very thorough when I make those.

“I’m very comfortable with Mitch coming in with the open discussions I’ve had with him.

“He’s been there and done that. He’s had the opportunity and the experience, so he knows what to expect.

“Likewise, we’ve all seen Cam (Murray) play for the state over a long period of time – play for his country.

“He’s a world class player and that’s what it comes down to.

“Cam McInnes is exactly the same so I had to make a call on that one. I felt with the experience of Cam Murray and what he’s capable of doing … well I could have gone either way.

“But I decided to bring Cam Murray back into the squad and give him a shot.”

NSW did not have a recognised No.14 on the bench for Game One, and while Maguire said he was comfortable with that decision three weeks ago, he could not ignore Watson’s return to form after a throat injury.

“I had a really good look at Connor ahead of Game One actually,” Maguire said.

“He reminds me a bit of Craig Wing in that he can play anywhere on the field – jump in the front row if he needed to.

“He just has a lot of energy. I’ll be comfortable to put him anywhere on the field. He’s shown that throughout his career.

“He’s had a bit of bad luck over time (injuries), but I had a really good conversation with Connor yesterday.

“Everyone wants to play Origin and he’s really excited.”