South Sydney superstar Latrell Mitchell is facing the judiciary tonight in a bid to get his grade two dangerous contact to the head/neck charge bumped down to a grade one, in a move that will have huge implications on both him and his club’s season.
There’s no question Mitchell’s season has been sensational so far. The Rabbitohs are flying high and he’s leading the Dally M vote tally – but the club has decided to take a calculated risk and challenge the grading of the charge. If they are successful, he’ll miss one week – had they taken an early guilty plea it would have been three weeks, and if they are unsuccessful tonight it will be four.
The stakes, for both the player and the club, are high.
TOUGH MONTH AHEAD ON THE SCHEDULE
Regardless of what happens tonight, Souths will be without Mitchell for their trip to the Gold Coast – but a tricky stretch follows, with a game in Canberra before they host the Melbourne Storm and then do battle in magic round with the Cronulla Sharks.
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The Rabbitohs will have looked at those crunch ties against the Storm and Raiders and concluded that it’s probably worth risking Mitchell’s absence against the Sharks if the reward is that he’s free to play against two of the competition’s heavyweights.
DALLY M CAMPAIGN IN TATTERS
The rules state that any player who is suspended twice in a season is ineligible to win the Dally M, but if you are banned once, you’re docked three points for each game you miss.
Mitchell is currently one point ahead of Ryan Papenhuyzen at the top of the leaderboard, and while a three-point deduction would sting, nine or 12 would pretty much end that dream.
Only twice in the past decade has the award been decided by more than six points. Cameron Smith won by eight in 2017, and Johnathan Thurston won by a whopping 11 points in 2015.
ORIGIN AUDITION WINDOW SHORTENS
James Tedesco has a firm grip on the fullback’s jersey for the NSW Blues, but there have been plenty of rumblings about Mitchell potentially grabbing a centre spot in the team.
He’s been playing brilliantly, but if he were rubbed out for four games, he’d be left with just two matches – against the Eels and Panthers – to catch Brad Fittler’s eye.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE RABBITOHS’ SPINE?
Souths are blessed with a few options that they can shuffle around, with Dane Gagai, Alex Johnston, and Cody Walker all boasting experience at fullback in their NRL careers.
Given the Rabbitohs are already a winger short, thanks to an injury to Josh Mansour, we may see Benji Marshall come back into the starting side at five-eighth and Walker thrown the No.1 jersey for a couple of weeks.
Another potential option is Johnston goes to fullback, Gagai plays on the wing and two reserve grade players are called into the top flight. Fortunately for Souths, their NSW Cup team featured four former first graders in the 2-5 jerseys last weekend in Jaxson Paulo, Taane Milne, Stephen Marsters and Tautau Moga.
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