NRL stars lash Latrell ‘bullying’ furore

The South Sydney Rabbitohs have come to the defence of Latrell Mitchell as the star continues to deal with renewed criticism over his fitness after teams returned to training.

Mitchell was panned over the first two rounds of the season that had been played before the game was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic with his move to fullback slammed, with Channel 9 commentator Phil Gould savaging his last start against the Brisbane Broncos.

Mitchell was pushed into the centres and Gould said “He’s of no value to his team the way he is at the moment, physically, mentally and in his knowledge of the game or lack of knowledge of the game”, in a scathing rant.

Just under seven weeks since the game shut down, Mitchell was dragged into a scandal when he and Melbourne Storm winger Josh Addo-Carr were heavily fined over breaching social distancing restrictions in Taree last week.

With the players returning to training on Monday, Mitchell was sent for a coronavirus test due to “flu-like symptoms” — he tested negative — and was also reportedly ambushed by a Channel 7 journalist out the front of his house.

Latrell at training on Wednesday.Source:AAP

But with plenty of attention aimed at him in general and even more on the back of the social distancing breach, Fox Sports reported Mitchell was “struggling to keep up with his teammates”.

The 22-year-old was defended by coach Wayne Bennett and Rabbitohs captain Adam Reynolds, who feared Mitchell might walk away from the game, echoing Damien Cook’s fears from late March.

Arguing the media scrutiny was similar to NBA legend Michael Jordan, Reynolds argued the scrutiny was “unfair”.

“I’m not worried about him leaving the game, he’s got a great family and great support around him, but at the end of the day he’s a human being and if you keep knocking him, and keep chasing him everywhere he goes, it can have an effect on anyone,” Reynolds said.

“It happened to Michael Jordan and he’s at the top of the pinnacle of all sports. Latrell is a young kid, yeah he’s made some mistakes but he’s coming in here all bubbly and he’s constantly scrutinised by the media, which I think is unfair.”

Even opposition teams came out in his defence with the Manly Sea Eagles’ Joel Thompson and the Canberra Raiders’ John Bateman coming out in defence of Mitchell.

“It is absolutely bullying,” Thompson said on 10 News. “It’s just attacking people and we’re better than that.

“Come and put a camera on everyone at training across every club and then see who’s struggling with fitness.”

So just like the majority of the NRL players on there first day back then!! But yous only seem to single one out 🤔🤦🏽‍♂️

But while his team going into back may seem like it’s the perfect response for Mitchell, former Origin star and Fox Sports presenter Ben Ikin said it might not help him in the long run.

“No amount of public protection from Wayne Bennett or empty flattery from his advisers will save Latrell from the next challenge: himself,” he wrote.

“If a distracted Latrell makes for a less effective Rabbitohs fullback, then the advice should be clear and direct: get off social media and get into the gym.”

Latrell Mitchell has been copping it.Source:News Corp Australia

Speaking on Fox League Live on Thursday night, former NRL stars Cooper Cronk and Braith Anasta backed Ikin’s take.

“Unless you’ve been a professional athlete before, you have reached the highest of highs, which he has at a young age, and he is at the moment going through the lowest of lows,” Anasta said. “It’s a very dark place. If you’re a professional rugby league player or athlete, you can understand it, but it’s only you yourself that can get you out of that situation.

“We’ve spoken about so much about having the right people around you, but obviously he doesn’t have that right now.

“As an athlete like him, you can feel the pain, it wouldn’t be easy, he’d be contemplating retirement. It’s all true, that would be happening. It gets to a point where it gets that bad that you think ‘I don’t enjoy this, I don’t love this game any more’, that’s where he’d be. I love the support from the players but there is such a big onus on Latrell to get out of this himself and make better decisions.”

Former Sydney Roosters teammate Cronk agreed but said the only way out of this is for him to improve and “find your reason why” — a singular focus that will inspire him forward.

Cronk said when people were critical, he would use critics to inspire him, placing articles next to his bed or in a draw so he could prove people wrong.

However, Mitchell isn’t the first to cop criticism with the pair pointing to the likes of superstars Daly Cherry-Evans and Mitchell Pearce with Anasta saying the latter “cried on my shoulder a number of times” but have come out the other side stronger.

Greats of the game are backing Mitchell to come back stronger.Source:AAP

Anasta said he didn’t agree with the news targeting Mitchell’s fitness, saying it could be seen as “targeting him too much and bullying”, arguing most players would have been in the same boat.

But he added “You need to be the fittest player on the team to play fullback, and in round one and two it didn’t work because he wasn’t fit enough”.

He said Mitchell should have come back fitter and stronger than ever to show he had the attitude to play fullback which opened himself up for the criticism.

Cronk said “he can do it, I’ve seen it first-hand.”

“While he’s not the best trainer, I’ve seen some guys who train the house down and then don’t perform on the weekend, he can perform on the weekend,” he said.

“This is how important I think he is for the South Sydney Rabbitohs — I didn’t have the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the top eight before they signed Latrell. Latrell signs, they are a top four team. He is that influential, he needs to be the fullback and he can be one of the best players in the competition and lead Sydney Sydney where they want to go if he’s fully prepared and ready to rock and roll on the weekend.”

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