Some may call it game playing, others call it lying. After spending months denying they were interested in Latrell Mitchell, South Sydney are celebrating their newest signing.
“We have no interest in him.”
They were the words of South Sydney general manager of football Shane Richardson in early November when speculation was rife the Rabbitohs wanted to sign Latrell Mitchell.
Bizarrely, Richardson went a step further, appearing to support him remaining with the Rabbitohs’ most bitter rivals.
“If he wants my advice, I’d stay at the Roosters.”
Fast forward to just three weeks ago at Christmas, and Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett continued the party line.
“We won’t be signing Latrell,” Bennett declared.
“We have enough centres. I am happy with Braidon Burns and James Roberts.
“I needed a forward to replace (retired forward) Sam (Burgess).”
No wonder Bennett was grinning like a Cheshire cat on Monday when he and Richardson flanked Mitchell, celebrating their biggest signing since Burgess and Greg Inglis.
If you ever hear the Rabbitohs categorically rule themselves out of signing a player, that’s a sure sign they’re in the race.
Bennett pulled the same move last May, shouting down suggestions the Rabbitohs would sign Brisbane centre James Roberts.
“It starts with you guys (media) sitting in coffee rooms and thinking ‘what am I going to make up today’,” Bennett said, turning the blowtorch on to journalists.
“We haven’t approached him and James won’t be coming to South Sydney, this year and next year.”
Less than three weeks later, Roberts was at Redfern.
It has been 83 days since The Daily Telegraph reported that Mitchell was due to meet with his now former manager Wayde Rushton about his requests in trying to secure a contract extension with the Sydney Roosters.
Since then a handful of clubs emerged and disappeared as potential landing places, Mitchell has undergone another management change before, finally, South Sydney won the battle to sign one of the hottest talents in the NRL.
While the media cops the brunt of criticism for apparently making up stories — which simply doesn’t happen, not here anyway — here’s how the most-talked about saga in rugby league history unfolded.
October 24: Mitchell ready to talk
Kangaroos centre Latrell Mitchell will meet privately with his manager before fronting the Sydney Roosters in the hope of securing a three-year deal worth $3 million.
November 1: The Dogs are barking
Look away Roosters fans – Latrell has been visiting Bulldogs officials at home, The Bulldogs have been secretly wooing Mitchell with club powerbrokers hopeful they can convince him to sign at the Belmore club.
November 4: Frustrated Roosters
Rumblings that Mitchell is unsettled continue to surface, with the Roosters growing tired of the situation as Canterbury loom as a potential destination.
November 6: Chooks pull $800k offer
The Roosters are preparing to offer Mitchell an immediate exit from the club, after contract talks between the two parties collapsed and the premiers withdrew an $800,000 offer following a meeting with coach Trent Robinson at the club’s Moore Park headquarters.
November 7: Souths: We don’t want him
South Sydney take the extraordinary step of encouraging Mitchell to remain at the Rabbitohs’ bitter rivals, the Roosters.
“We have no interest in him,” Richardson tells The Daily Telegraph. “And if he wants my advice, I’d stay at the Roosters.”
November 8: Rivals aren’t honest
Despite a host of NRL clubs denying their interest in Mitchell, the star’s manager Wayde Rushton says they aren’t telling the truth as his phone continues to ring off the hook.
November 9: Tigers emerge
Wests Tigers have $1.7 million in available salary cap space for next season and plan an audacious bid to make Mitchell the biggest signing in the NRL joint venture’s history.
November 10: ‘Scarred’: Tigers stall on $3m deal
An $8.2 million signing spree that backfired on the Tigers has the NRL club’s board urging caution as they weigh up splashing the cash to snare Mitchell.
November 14: Firefighting Tigers target
The Tigers are closing in on signing Mitchell as the Kangaroos star sets aside speculation around his NRL future to join the firefighting effort on the mid-north coast.
November 15: Tigers literally hit the road
Tigers coach Michael Maguire embarks on a road trip to Mitchell’s hometown of Taree, where the aim is to try to convince the young star why he should commit his future to a club that has the longest finals drought in the NRL.
November 16: Fighting fires over Las Vegas heat
Members of the victorious Sydney Roosters head to Las Vegas to celebrate their back-to-back premiership success. But in-demand star Latrell Mitchell won’t be joining them. Mitchell opts out of the Roosters hyped Las Vegas premiership party, deciding instead to remain in Taree and help his community with the ongoing bushfire situation.
November 19: Yee-haw, Cowboys
Mitchell meets with Cowboys officials in Townsville as NRL clubs race to secure the 22-year-old’s signature for the 2020 season.
November 20: The new Ellery
The Tigers’ pursuit of Mitchell is being driven by the belief he will become the greatest recruit since the legendary Ellery Hanley linked with Balmain 32 years ago.
November 24: Titans join the race
The Tigers have a fight on their hands to secure Mitchell after the Gold Coast put their hand up to sign the star centre.
November 26: Mal makes his pitch
The fight for Mitchell gets personal with Mal Meninga boldly declaring how he can help the out-of-favour Sydney Rooster reach his full potential as a footballer and an indigenous leader at the Gold Coast.
November 28: Hollywood Roosters
Roosters players live it up in Los Angeles as a reward for winning 2019 premiership, without their disgruntled teammate Mitchell.
November 29: Snub sinks $3.8m deal
The Tigers make the bombshell decision to withdraw a $3.8 million offer to Mitchell after he rejected an invitation to meet Michael Maguire.
December 3: Tigers’ interest still flickers
It was on. Then it was off. But now it seems Wests Tigers remain in the game for Mitchell after the Leichhardt club admit they are waiting for a call from the wantaway Rooster.
December 5: Latrell’s manager fires back
Mitchell’s manager Wayde Rushton hits back at criticism over the contract talks surrounding his star client, stressing: “We’ve done nothing wrong” in exploring his contract options.
December 9: Greenberg edits nrl.com
NRL boss Todd Greenberg has to personally intervene to delete explosive quotes from Latrell’s wide-ranging interview on nrl.com which raised racial discrimination concerns around the NSW Blues State of Origin team.
In the original version of the interview, Latrell declared: “NSW went real funny on us because we don’t sing the anthem,” referring to himself, Cody Walker and Josh Addo-Carr.
December 10: Titans take a step back
Sensing too much pressure has been put on Mitchell, Mal Meninga reveals talks to entice him to the Gold Coast have been put on hold after deciding the best thing he can do for the young star right now is “give him space”
December 11: Latrell’s pain as Roosters pull out
There were tears as Mitchell has an emotional meeting with Roosters coach Trent Robinson in which the two-time premiership winner is formally told his long-term future at Bondi was over.
December 12: Tigers are back in the hunt
Roosters chairman Nick Politis and Wests Tigers counterpart Lee Hagipantelis have personally spoken about Latrell Mitchell in a sign the Concord club remains open to signing the Kangaroos star.
December 13: Freddy offers olive branch
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler will meet Mitchell face-to-face after their fractured relationship came to a flashpoint.
December 15: Glory, glory to Latrell
Mitchell hasn’t given up hope of playing for the Rabbitohs next season, even if it means him taking a substantial pay cut.
He will not commit to the Wests Tigers and their $1 million-a-season offer until his manager has explored all options.
December 17: Cody breaker
Cody Walker finally re-signs with South Sydney on a two-year deal, now the Rabbitohs turn their attention to locking in Latrell Mitchell in what would be a stunning coup.
December 19: Titans go gold on Latrell
Mal Meninga reveals the Gold Coast have gone cold on signing Mitchell, meaning the 22-year-old’s only remaining hope of getting away from Bondi next season could be if he can work out a cut-price deal to join the Roosters’ arch rivals, South Sydney, before the New Year.
December 26: Wily Bennett at it again
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett insists wantaway Rooster Mitchell won’t be joining the Rabbitohs any time soon.
“We won’t be signing Latrell,” Bennett said with a straight face. “We have enough centres. I am happy with Braidon Burns and James Roberts.”
January 4: Agents of chaos
Mitchell will have his third agent in less than eight months after requesting an immediate release from manager Wayde Ruston to join the stable of rival NRL agent and boxing promoter Matt Rose.
January 5: Benny’s backflip
Rabbitohs coach Bennett’s attempts to keep hidden his interest in Mitchell fail, as word leaks out that Souths are all-but confirmed as the star’s next club.
January 6: Latrell’s no-go zone
Roosters formally tell Mitchell he isn’t required at the official start of pre-season training, granting him leave from training to sort out his future.
January 7: Another roadblock down
Mitchell is set to be granted a release from Wayde Rushton to rival manager Matt Rose in a development that will secure his switch to South Sydney.
January 8: Benny lure for Latrell
Mitchell will meet with Bennett in the coming days in a bid to finalise a deal the supercoach said wouldn’t happen.
January 11: Latrell not sold on Souths’ offer
Mitchell rejects a Rabbitohs offer after an evening with Russell Crowe was not enough to convince the star centre to accept a cut-price deal to join South Sydney. Mitchell took just over an hour to knock back the Rabbitohs’ first official offer after the club tabled a deal worth $1.4m over two years.
Club legends Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess were on deck for Latrell Mitchell’s first training session with the Rabbitohs.
January 12: It’s back on again
Having knocked back South Sydney’s first official offer on Friday, Mitchell has agreed to become a Rabbitoh after receiving an upgraded two-year deal worth an estimated $1.4 million.
January 13: Deal done
The most talked about contract in NRL history has finally been confirmed with Mitchell signing a two-year deal with South Sydney, having been released by the Sydney Roosters.
January 14: On the Bunny train
Watched on by club legends Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess, a tentative Mitchell was thrown straight into the deep end in an intense field session as he began life with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.