As first revealed by the Herald, Mitchell has agreed to terms with the Rabbitohs for 2020, on a deal worth about $580,000. The Roosters have paid him just over $116,000 since November 1, and continue to make noise about wanting the money back before he is released.
Souths have an option their way to sign Mitchell for 2021 for $800,000, with a June 30 deadline to decide if they want to keep him — and have enough salary cap space.
That is the sticking point between Souths and Mitchell’s new manager, Matt Rose. It’s the reason the contract is still not finalised.
Mitchell would surely want Souths to sign him for 2021 sooner than later because other clubs work so far in advance with their salary cap, due to the game’s chaotic contract system.
Still, Souths were hopeful of getting the contract signed and registered over the weekend so Mitchell could start training on Monday, although that appears unlikely.
The deal is a significant win for Souths, no matter which way you look at it, because they hold all the cards.
If they decide midway through next season they don’t want him, or he’s out of form, or he’s suffered a serious injury, they can move him on without pain.
For Mitchell, it doesn’t bring the security of the Roosters’ offer of a $1.6 million extension on his current deal, and the four-year $4 million that’s been sitting on the table at the Wests Tigers since November.
Other club bosses and player agents were stunned by the deal, wondering how Souths got away with it.
But if there’s anything to learn from the two-month circus surrounding Mitchell’s future, it’s that he’s his own man making his own decisions.
“Nothing has been made official as of yet,” he said via his Instagram account. “But my stay at the Roosters has come to an end. On to the next chapter wherever that may be.”
Hilariously, the Roosters seem determined to make Souths work for Mitchell’s signature — even though they have been playing hard ball with him since he rejected their initial offer and demanded he was off their books by January 1.
Clubs being reimbursed for money they’ve already paid a player is almost unheard of. So are transfer fees in the NRL.
But the Roosters feel aggrieved at the way the process has been drawn out as Mitchell swapped managers, from Wayde Rushton to Rose, and then asked for the week off from training with his future undecided.
Ultimately, the person who makes the most important call is salary cap auditor Richard Gardham. Souths expect him to register the contract in coming days.
When that finally happens, attention will quickly turn to the most intriguing subplot of the season: where Mitchell plays and how well he plays there.
He has talked about his desire to play fullback, even though he never has, but there are doubts about his fitness in such an exacting position, especially after an extended off-season. Also, Adam Doueihi was a revelation for Souths at the back towards the end of last season.
Centre remains Mitchell’s most likely spot, with Braidon Burns moving to the wing, which would possibly edge Alex Johnston out the door to the Tigers or Titans.
Nevertheless, the thought of Mitchell wearing the No.1 jumper for Souths, like so many other Indigenous players before him, is too tantalising to ignore.
When he was first linked to Souths last May, he scoffed at the suggestion of coming to the club, saying it would be too daunting to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Greg Inglis, but he has the potential to have the same impact off the field as well as on it.
Now Mitchell is stitched up for 2020, Souths will continue to work on the Titans about getting the player they really need: middle forward Jai Arrow.
Officials were optimistic at the start of the week about securing both. When it became obvious the Titans were digging in, while also refusing a player swap, Souths moved onto Mitchell while they could.
Souths haven’t shelved plans to get Arrow early, but admit it won’t happen as easily as they first imagined.
Of course, Mitchell’s signing will provide another entry for the Book of Feuds, the tome Crowe commissioned diehard fan Mark Courtney to write when he bought the club in 2006.
Rabbitohs supporters bombarded Ron Coote with hate mail when he left Redfern for Eastern Suburbs in 1972, including one from a gypsy who placed a curse on him. It didn’t work, with Coote a mainstay of the Tri-Colours’ premiership sides of 1974-75.
Roosters chairman Nick Politis branded club pin-up Craig Wing a “show pony” when the halfback fronted a media conference alongside Crowe in 2008 to announce his “homecoming” to Souths, where he started his career.
More recently, the Roosters have enticed Luke Keary and Angus Crichton across Anzac Parade. Now the Bunnies have got one back, and it’s one of the biggest fishes of them all.
Souths host the Roosters on a Friday night at ANZ Stadium in round three, and the machinations and mistruths of the past two months that have finally landed Mitchell at Redfern will be firmly in many people’s minds.
Andrew Webster is Chief Sports Writer of The Sydney Morning Herald.