Rugby League Immortal and Blues advisor Andrew Johns has weighed in on the impending State of Origin selection dilemma facing NSW, with a radical call on Latrell Mitchell. The Rabbitohs star is under an injury cloud ahead of Game II at Suncorp Stadium, after missing the Origin opener with a calf injury before being left out of the Bunnies' squad to face the Dragons on Saturday afternoon.
Mitchell's injury is just one headache for Brad Fittler's Blues, whose injury crisis worsened this week when halfback Nathan Cleary was ruled out of Game II with a hamstring tear. Mitchell's Rabbitohs teammate Cam Murray is also at risk of missing the must-win Origin clash at Suncorp Stadium after picking up a groin complaint.
It leaves the Blues with a number of massive questions to answer, the biggest being who replaces Cleary at halfback and whether his absence means Panthers teammate Jarome Luai keeps his spot at five-eighth. The most straightforward move for Fittler would seemingly be to shift Game I utility and reigning Dally M Medallist Nicho Hynes to halfback.
However, there has been a massive push this week for veteran Broncos halfback Adam Reynolds to be given the No.7 jersey, with Maroons greats Darren Lockyer and Cooper Cronk both backing the idea. "Origin is obviously as big as it gets. I f I look at the players in contention there's one guy (who) stands out that's played in multiple grand finals, won a grand final, played in a grand final at this ground, and that's Adam Reynolds," Lockyer said on Wide World of Sports' QLDER show.
Fellow Maroons great Wally Lewis agreed and said it would be "madness" for the Blues to overlook the Broncos halfback in enemy territory. Reynolds' inclusion would boost the argument for his former halves partner at the Rabbitohs, Cody Walker, to come in at No.6. Parramatta halfback Mitchell Moses is yet another strong halves candidate for NSW.
Speaking on Wide World of Sports' Freddy & The Eighth, Fittler gave few indications about which way he was leaning after claiming he hasn't "given it much thought". Fittler's advisor Johns offered a few more clues after explaining that multiple factors will be taken into account when solving the halves dilemma facing the Blues.
Andrew Johns floats radical Latrell Mitchell idea
"If you're going up there to Suncorp with the series on the line, do you need someone who's fresh that just goes out there and plays? Do you need experience? Do you need combinations?" Johns asked. "All that comes in, you've got right side players of the field like Reynolds, Hynes, Moses and you've got left side predominant players like Luai and Cody [Walker], so that all has to go in, combinations, the combinations with the dummy half, Tedesco."
Johns then gave credence to a radical suggestion from a fan about Mitchell playing five-eighth, with the Blues legend insisting: "Of course he could". With Fittler's career on the line at Suncorp Stadium, it would certainly be one of the great Origin gambles if he were to entrust Mitchell with the No.6 role for the Blues.
The more likely scenario would be Mitchell returning at centre for the Blues but after being ruled out of action this weekend, it would mean he goes into the crunch clash at Suncorp having not played a game in 33 days. Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou said despite the absence of both Mitchell and Murray for Saturday's game against the Dragons, he expects both to be fit for Game II on June 21. “They’re both out, they won’t play this week, but it doesn’t rule them out of contention for Origin II,” he said.
Demetriou's comment comes amid reports from The Daily Telegraph's Dave Riccio that the Blues and Rabbitohs are both concerned about rushing Mitchell back from injury too soon. “South Sydney will not want to send a not 100 per cent Latrell Mitchell into Blues camp," Riccio said on NRL 360. "He came out of Blues camp with an injury. They are not going to send him back in with the threat of him missing out on South Sydney games.”
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.