‘I never thought he was 100 per cent’: Fittler’s gamble backfires as super sub Crichton answers Blues call again
Blues coach Brad Fittler has conceded Latrell Mitchell was always at long odds to play next Wednesday, but is hopeful the strike centre will be fit for game three as NSW tries to keep the series alive next week in Brisbane.
Mitchell told teammates on Wednesday night he wouldn’t be fit to face the Maroons at Suncorp Stadium, with Stephen Crichton officially named on Thursday to come in as he did for the series opener when the Souths star was ruled out with a calf strain.
That injury was only supposed to keep him out for a week, but it’s been nearly a month since then, with Mitchell not showing enough improvement at Wednesday’s session to convince himself he’d be able to get through an Origin game.
“When Latrell came in, I never thought he was 100 per cent certain that he was going to be able to make it, but I think we all thought the risk was worth it,” Fittler said.
“He came in and we spoke early about it. We were always open about how the week had to run. We’ve been in constant contact with Eddie Farah at South Sydney to see where they were leading into camp. We were optimistic, but we fell short.
“You can do scans, but at the end of the day, it’s having the confidence to stretch out and to run. I just feel at the moment that he is frustrated because he feels like it should be getting better.”
Fittler said it was entirely Mitchell’s decision to withdraw, with Sunday locked in as a crucial session to prove his fitness.
The star fullback is at long odds to play for South Sydney next week, given he’s not right for the Blues, but Fittler is refusing to rule him out of game three in Sydney on July 12.
“He’ll be back in the next couple of weeks, without a doubt. He feels like he can see a pathway, and I think he feels he can be injury-free soon,” he said.
“That comes down to Latrell, and I hope he gets back for the Rabbits.
“It was good to know earlier and it was a selfless decision because it gives Stephen Crichton a little more certainty about his job and what he’s got to do.”
Fittler was a lot more confident about Cameron Murray’s fitness, declaring “I’m very certain, as certain as can be” when asked if the South Sydney lock would overcome a groin complaint in time for next week’s must-win game.
Mitchell’s withdrawal is a case of déjà vu for Penrith’s Stephen Crichton, who has longer to mentally prepare for this game after he found out he was playing in Adelaide just days before kick-off.
“It’s probably a little bit better, but even as 18th man for game one, I was preparing as if I was playing in case something happened,” said Crichton, who was a ball boy three years ago when the Blues played at Suncorp.
“It’s probably a bit better that I found out earlier, but I’d prepare the same even if I wasn’t playing game two.”
Crichton was one the Blues’ best in the series opener, but losing Mitchell remains a massive blow for a NSW side which simply has to win.
“It’s the fear factor he brings to opposition teams,” good mate Josh Addo-Carr said.
“He’s big, he’s fast and he’s ugly, and we’re definitely going to miss him, but we’ve got the best players in the country playing for the Blues.
“He was a bit emotional, as anyone would be. It is what is. He put the team first and that’s what I love about Trell.
“You can see how frustrated he was. After he did it, everyone was telling him that it’s a ‘week’ injury, but it’s been a couple of weeks now. He’s been working his backside off to be fully fit, but he wasn’t feeling confident.”