Wayne Bennett has implored NSW to pick Latrell Mitchell in the centres for State of Origin, claiming he’d be the Blues’ equivalent of Greg Inglis.
Both Phil Gould and Paul Gallen left Mitchell out of their NSW sides for Game I this week, picking Stephen Crichton and Tom Trbojevic in the centres.
Mitchell has not played for NSW since being dropped after the opening game in 2019, when coach Brad Fittler was concerned about his decision making and positioning.
In the time since he has moved to South Sydney as a fullback and then missed last year’s games through injury, before being banned for four games in the lead-up to the series.
But South Sydney coach Bennett has no doubt his player could easily make the move back to centre, insisting NSW have no choice but to pick Mitchell and Trbojevic in the centres.
“He’d be a 100kg centre, it’s like Greg Inglis playing for NSW instead of Queensland,” Bennett said.
“That’s what it is. He’ll be a pretty unstoppable bloke.
“He’s made for (Origin) … he played most of his footy in the last two or three years at the Roosters in the centres.
“He has played No.1 here but he could slot back in there easily. We’re talking about Trbojevic playing there as well, he’s a wonderful player.
“You can’t afford to leave those two guys out of any team, I don’t care who is picking it. You just find a place for them.”
Mitchell was quiet in his comeback against Penrith last week, given little opportunity in the 56-12 loss after South Sydney’s forwards were well beaten.
Saturday night’s match shapes as a big-game battle against Parramatta and fellow Origin aspirant Clint Gutherson, who would be hoping to be utility or 18th man.
Damien Cook will also go head-to-head with Queensland hopeful Reed Mahoney at hooker, with Bennett expecting his No.9 to benefit from Cameron Murray’s return.
Murray has one of the quickest play-the-balls in the competition and is also the ball-playing lock South Sydney have missed during a poor three weeks.
But Bennett does fear the Rabbitohs’ poor form could cost Cody Walker his spot at five-eighth, after the No.6 admitted he didn’t believe he deserved to be in the conversation this week.
While the former Queensland mentor believes Cook’s long-term value for NSW means he’s earned the right to be picked despite Souths’ struggles, the same can’t be said for Walker.
“Cody hasn’t been a regular in the NSW team for four or five years. He is one of the vulnerable players,” Bennett said.
“He has been a victim of the way the forwards have been playing. It’s pretty hard for him to do his best with the way the forwards have been playing.”