Joseph Suaalii hit with massive ban as calls grow for Latrell Mitchell's return to Origin

Michael Maguire will need to find a new centre for Game II of the State of Origin series.

Joseph Suaalii might have played his last State of Origin game after the NSW centre was hit with a four-game suspension for his hit on Reece Walsh in the series opener on Wednesday night. Suaalii had a horror debut that lasted just seven minutes after he made direct contact with his shoulder to Walsh's head in a nasty tackle after the Queensland fullback had passed the ball.

The Blues clearly went into the game with a plan to pressure and disrupt Walsh, but it backfired just seven minutes in. Suaalii rushed out of the line to put a shot on Walsh as the fullback collected the ball, but slammed his shoulder straight into Walsh's face as he was passing.

Latrell Mitchell, Reece Walsh and Joseph Suaalii.
Latrell Mitchell (L) might be called on for State of Origin II after Joseph Suaalii (R) copped a big ban for his hit on Reece Walsh (centre). Image: Getty

Walsh's head snapped back viciously and also thudded into the ground on the way down, and he appeared to lose consciousness for a brief period. He was immediately ruled out the game with a Category 1 concussion, and Suaalii was given his marching orders as a result.

Reece Walsh, pictured here after the hit from Joseph Suaalii in State of Origin I.
Reece Walsh appeared to lose consciousness after the hit from Joseph Suaalii in State of Origin I. Image: Getty

The Roosters centre, who is leaving the NRL for rugby union at the end of the season, has since been slapped with a four-game ban. It means he will definitely miss Origin II and won't play another game before the NSW team is picked for Game III - meaning he might not play Origin again.


Suaalii will spend four games on the sidelines after taking an early guilty plea, and it would have increased to five if he opted to challenge the grade-two reckless high tackle charge at the judiciary and failed. The 20-year-old is no guarantee to return to the NRL after his stint in rugby union - meaning he might be destined to only ever play one game (or seven minutes) of State of Origin.

"Disappointing to see him get sent off, but that's the way they called it," NSW coach Michael Maguire said after NSW went down 38-10 with 12 players. "It's a big call at this level. Reece was falling, I'll have to have another look at it but it's a massive call."

Maguire is also facing a massive call about who to bring in for Game II. Bradman Best, Kotoni Staggs and Jesse Ramien will all come into contention, but the overwhelming sentiment on social media on Wednesday night was that Latrell Mitchell should be thrown a lifeline.

Mitchell hasn't played Origin since 2021 but has been putting together a nice run of form for the lowly Rabbitohs in the NRL. Many had called for Mitchell to be picked in the NSW team for Game I, but Maguire reportedly had reservations about how much the South Sydney fullback was committed to the Blues.

Maguire reportedly met with Mitchell in the weeks leading up to Game I and got the impression he was more focused on helping the Rabbitohs get off the bottom of the NRL ladder, than winning the Origin shield with the Blues. But Mitchell later denied suggestions about his commitment to NSW, saying: "I specifically said to Madge via phone call if I’m playing well enough for me to be in your side then I’m in 100%. I bleed blue, l love the rivalry and the Origin arena. All I can do now is focus on Souths and winning more games. Good luck to the boys in blue, I’ll be cheering NSW all the way.”

Latrell Mitchell in State of Origin in 2019.
Latrell Mitchell hasn't played State of Origin since 2021. Image: Getty

Queensland great Cooper Cronk said before Game I: “I get why he’s not (in the team). You can’t go down that path of picking (Dylan) Edwards and (Cameron) McInnes and then picking Latrell because that goes away from the way you’re setting up your team.

“But when Latrell puts it together there’s hardly anyone that can stop him. But Latrell needs to be in the right headspace for him to play in the big moments and obviously Madge has had a conversation to think that he’s not.”