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Sunday, April 14, 2024

On Latrell Mitchell, South Sydney are blaming everyone else for their own problems

Under the NRL’s broadcast deal, Triple M can’t film interviews on the field – just audio. When it posted a video of Mitchell’s interview, it was technically a breach of its contract.

Free-to-air rights holder Nine Entertainment Co (publisher of this masthead) fired in a complaint to the NRL, but so did Souths, who feel the network threw Mitchell under the bus; that it was using him in the name of likes and clicks or whatever the kids call them these days.

NRL boss Andrew Abdo has had a “tough and honest conversation” with Latrell Mitchell.

NRL boss Andrew Abdo has had a “tough and honest conversation” with Latrell Mitchell.Credit: Getty

It says everything about what’s wrong at the Rabbitohs: instead of telling Mitchell to grow up and act like a professional, it went after the person in charge of Triple M’s Instagram account.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo met with Mitchell and his management at League Central on Wednesday night to discuss the interview as well as his running commentary on Spencer Leniu’s racism charge.

I’m told Abdo didn’t hold back in laying down the law and that Mitchell, to his credit, listened and took his advice on board.

“It was a tough and honest conversation,” Abdo said. “I explained what’s expected of him as an NRL player and the issues with his behaviour of the last few weeks which can’t be repeated.”

How many tough and honest conversations are being had at Souths – not about Mitchell but the direction of their football team?

When Souths failed to reach the finals last year, the focus was on Burgess and his belief that Mitchell and teammate Cody Walker were receiving special treatment from coach Jason Demetriou.

The tougher conversation should have been about 32-year-old hooker Damien Cook and 23-year-old halfback Lachlan Ilias.

Cook no longer possesses the same explosiveness that once positioned him as the best hooker in the game. He’s older. It happens.

But instead of making the hard decision in the off-season to elevate his long-term successor, Peter Mamouzelos, with Cook coming off the bench, Demetriou stayed loyal to Cook. On Thursday, the news broke that Cook was being dumped to the bench with Siliva Havili to start.

Damien Cook no longer has the same explosiveness that made him the best hooker in the NRL.

Damien Cook no longer has the same explosiveness that made him the best hooker in the NRL.Credit: Getty

It reeks of panic, much like the sacking of Ilias.

The club made the hard decision in 2021 to back the youngster and squeeze out Adam Reynolds. Apart from some strong form at the end of 2022, it’s clear Souths backed the wrong pony.

Ilias’ head must be spinning.

Demetriou hooked him midway through the first half against the Dragons in 2022, said he’ll be “the best halfback the club has had in a long time” in 2023, then dropped him after two losses to start 2024.

Wild theories have been circulating about why Lachlan Ilias has failed to fire.

Wild theories have been circulating about why Lachlan Ilias has failed to fire.Credit: Rhett Wyman/SMH

He’s been replaced by Dean Hawkins for Friday night’s fiery blockbuster against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium, and while Hawkins has question marks around his defence, there are plenty of people at Souths who reckon he should’ve been the starting halfback from the first day of pre-season.

Picking Hawkins in round three only justifies these beliefs.

Meanwhile, Souths continue to let speculation about Ilias and his demotion fester like an open wound.

Some wild claims have been made this week on NRL 360, complicated by the fact co-host Braith Anasta is also Ilias’ manager – a conflict of interest that Anasta declares on the program, unlike others in similar roles.

Theories were raised about Ilias’ form being affected by Mitchell and Walker over-calling him in attack. The question was also asked if the senior players who had a say in the young half being dumped could be trusted.

They’re rather heavy claims to make and, if true, the problems at Souths run deeper than we thought.

Demetriou did not respond to a request from this column to clear the air, which is surprising given how often he complains on podcasts and the like about the misinformation spread by the rugby league media.

Asked at a media conference on Thursday if the leadership group played a hand in Ilias’ sacking, Demetriou said: “That’s inside information.”

It’s early in the season, of course. In signature rugby league style, it wouldn’t surprise if Souths ended a week of turmoil with a glorious victory on the Roosters’ home patch.

Should results not turn, though, and this season heads down the same track as the last, who will start kicking some heads?

Nick Pappas, Jason Demetriou and Blake Solly need to deliver some hard truths.

Nick Pappas, Jason Demetriou and Blake Solly need to deliver some hard truths.Credit: Janie Barrett, NRL Photos, Rhett Wyman

It’s not like Souths are run by gibberers: chief executive Blake Solly is seen as a future NRL chief executive and chairman Nick Pappas is one of the longest-serving and most respected in the game.

If they or others can’t deliver some hard truths, maybe Crowe should reach out to the Terminator.

Why sink the Slipper into Rosehill Gardens?

Infinitely better racing judges than me reckon Gai Waterhouse could fill the first four slots in her favourite race, the $5 million Golden Slipper (1200m) at Rosehill Gardens on Saturday.

Of her six starters, favourite Storm Boy ($2), Lady of Camelot ($7.50), Straight Charge ($11) and Fully Lit ($26) are expected to feature in the finish. Espionage ($20) is still an emergency at this stage, but if it gets a start, it could also be a threat.

Trainer Gai Waterhouse has six starters in the Golden Slipper.

Trainer Gai Waterhouse has six starters in the Golden Slipper.Credit: Getty Images

Standing in her way is Chris Waller’s Switzerland ($5), who will be ridden by super-hoop James McDonald, but it warms the sub-cockles of the heart knowing Waterhouse, in partnership with Adrian Bott, is still preparing world-class two-year-olds at the age of 69.

Indeed, it should be a bumper Slipper Day given the size and quality of the fields.

English hoops Ryan Moore and Tom Marquand, and Hong Kong-based Hugh Bowman, are flying in for the meeting, as are Melbourne’s best, including Mark Zahra, Jamie Kah and Craig Williams.

Which leads us to ask the question: Why do NSW Premier Chris Minns, the Australian Turf Club and Racing NSW want to level Rosehill and relocate it out west or to the historic brick pit at Sydney Olympic Park?

The short answer is Minns wants to build 25,000 dwellings on the site and will pay the ATC about $5 billion for it, although I’m told that number could be much more.

As for the ATC, it desperately wants the sale to happen, knowing it can’t rely on Racing NSW handouts and antiquated revenue streams from the struggling TAB for much longer.

ATC members, however, are overwhelmingly against it. The board needs their support for the sale to go through.

But the two people they really need to convince are Waterhouse and Waller, who both machine-gunned the idea at a members’ forum last month.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys is under fire over the fate of Rosehill Gardens.

Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys is under fire over the fate of Rosehill Gardens.Credit: Rhett Wyman

Ever the pragmatist, Waller usually keeps out of industry fights. He’s like his Slipper runner, Switzerland.

But, on this matter, he’s prepared to stare down Racing NSW chief executive Peter V’landys.

In remarks that weren’t widely reported at the time, Waller told the members’ forum: “Mr V’landys, you’re the best administrator we’ve ever had, but this is not part of it. You’re going to come down in a crashing heap.”

The ATC understands it didn’t sell the proposal well enough to racing participants when the news broke in December. A members’ vote is expected to be taken by the end of the year.

THE QUOTE
“We are aiming to have 300,000 condoms here at disposal for the athletes in the village.” — Laurent Michaud, director of the Olympic and Paralympic Village in Paris. That should be enough. For the first week.

THUMBS UP

Legendary boxing trainer and ibis enthusiast Johnny Lewis turned 80 on Monday, although he insists the Births and Deaths Registry got the year wrong. On Saturday, he’ll be in the corner of Ella Boot as she takes on Thailand’s Usanakorn Thawilsuhannawang for the WBC silver lightweight world title.

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THUMBS DOWN

Australian WBO super-welterweight champion Tim Tszyu is desperate for people in the US to “say my motherf—ing name”, but it makes it hard when his opponents keep pulling out of fights. Jermell Charlo last year, now Keith Thurman for their March 30 bout in Las Vegas. Tsyzu has agreed to instead fight Sebastian Fundora, who is 22 centimetres taller.

It’s a big weekend for … Waratahs coach Darren Coleman, who has started the season 1-3 and will soon face the NSW Rugby board to see if he’s still got a job. Beating the Crusaders and narrow losses to the Highlanders and Blues mightn’t be enough. A win over Fijian Drua at Lautoka in Fiji on Saturday might help.

It’s an even bigger weekend for … Daniel Ricciardo, who comes into the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne under pressure from former world champion Alan Jones, who reckons he’s “treading water” at Red Bull and “past his best”. Ricciardo, who hasn’t bitten back in response, has finished 13th and 16th in the opening two races in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

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