Latrell Mitchell’s father Matt says the combination of super coach Wayne Bennett and South Sydney owner Russell Crowe proved the tipping point in his son’s decision to join the Rabbitohs.
Matt Mitchell, who played junior and lower grade football for the Rabbitohs, spoke to NRL.com about what life was like for the family amid the biggest story of the 2020 pre-season.
From clarifying Mitchell’s comments on Monday about turning down the big money on offer from the Wests Tigers to breaking the news to his now-former teammates at the Roosters and the strain the last few months have placed on the family, it’s been a big few weeks for the entire family.
The proud father is now hoping his son can get back to doing what he does best.
Wayne Bennett’s influence
At the same time the rest of the wider NRL community were wondering where he would end up, Latrell was also unsure about where he was headed.
That uncertainty began to disappear following a lengthy conversation over a cup of coffee with Wayne Bennett.
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“As soon as he met with the super coach that was it I think,” Matt Mitchell said.
“Wayne Bennett said, ‘mate, I’ve got room for you here and I’d love to coach you’. He told Trell that there was no pressure and he was straight up with him and said that they didn’t have the money that the Wests Tigers were offering but wanted him at the club.
“They had a good yarn and he left feeling wanted. That’s when I think he made his decision.”
The trip to Russell Crowe’s farm
Following his chat with Bennett, Latrell and his dad were invited up to Crowe’s Nana Glen farm.
The conversations on Crowe’s property just outside Coffs Harbour made Latrell realise the two aren’t all that different when it comes to what they want in life.
“He [Crowe] is one of the most placid men I’ve met in a long time. For a Hollywood superstar he’s a real down to earth fulla,” Latrell’s dad said.
“Anyone would swear he’s got a mansion but he doesn’t, he has a beautiful little farmhouse for his mum and dad and a place there for him and his family.
“He didn’t even talk about football, Russell just showed us around the farm. He said to us football can only get you so far and if this is what you want and what you’re passionate about then work towards it.
“Everything he’s got there is for him, his kids and his family. That’s Latrell, he loves his family, he loves the outdoors and the bush. He’s put a deposit down now for his [own] farm so I think those conversations really planted a seed for him too.”
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Saying no to Michael Maguire
Mitchell’s comment on Monday about how he would have regretted a move to the Wests Tigers was not intended as a shot that club or coach Michael Maguire. Matt Mitchell said his son’s comment rather suggested that if he had accepted that deal two weeks ago the Souths opportunity that came up wouldn’t have eventuated.
“Look, he was real close to signing with the Wests Tigers but I think that Wayne Bennett chat just got him over the line,” Matt Mitchell said.
“He really likes and respects Michael Maguire. He thought he was a real man’s man and he loved the way he spoke to him. Latrell said he was straight up as well which Trell really liked.
“And he knows [Wests Tigers general manager of football] Adam Hartigan. Adam coached both my boys at the Roosters in under 20s and he felt comfortable there.”
After putting pen to paper with Souths
The headlines that have followed Latrell over the past five months have taken a toll on the entire Mitchell family.
The closure that came with signing with South Sydney resulted in Mitchell snr seeing a genuine smile on his son’s face for the first time in months.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever seen him real nervous. He was shaking in the back of the car going towards the leagues club [to sign the contract], but you could see that he was excited too,” Matt Mitchell said.
“As soon as he got there and met Wayne Bennett, Wayne just put him at ease because they were just talking about cattle and the farm. He just had this big sigh of relief.
“When it was done we hadn’t seen him smile like that in a long long time. It was a big relief. I said to him ‘Are you happy?”. He couldn’t even say anything to me he just had the biggest smile on his face.
“I messaged the missus after it too and said ‘how are you feeling, darling?’ She said, ‘it feels like 10 kilos has just dropped from me’.
“That’s how much pressure we’ve been under as a family since August last year when all the racial stuff started going on then into the contract stuff. The stress for us has been terrible.
“It was the first time I nearly cried talking to people yesterday as well. I was choked up for words talking to the cameras and I usually love talking.”
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Breaking the news to Roosters players
Although Latrell couldn’t wipe the smile off his face on Monday he couldn’t help but think about his former Roosters teammates.
Several of the boys reached out to their new rival, sending him their best wishes.
“He was feeling a little emotional as well yesterday because he was messaging a fair few of the Roosters boys.
“Jared Waerea-Hargreaves was the first one he told and Luke Keary rang him to wish him good luck and told him he misses him already. Joey Manu said ‘I’m selling all your stuff in your locker’,” Latrell’s dad laughed.
“He hasn’t spoken to Aubo [Mitchell Aubusson] yet. He said he’ll probably cry because Aubo has been like his big brother, his mentor. Latrell said he’s the man.
“I told him that he’s done something very special in his life. Won two premierships and with a bunch of deadly fullas. I said to him, them boys are going to be in your life forever son no matter where you are and he said, ‘yeah, I know that dad’.”
The bet dad was happy to lose
A family bet made years ago ended in Latrell’s favour when he made his NRL debut in 2016.
Matt Mitchell, who sat on the bench for South Sydney’s first grade side in the early 1990s, accepted a bet from his son that he’d top his accomplishments.
“Latrell made a bet with me when he was younger saying I’m going to beat you dad, talking about where I got to in footy,” Matt Mitchell said.
“That first game in 2016, I remember it like it was yesterday and I still have his debut jumper in the loungeroom just to rub it into me.
“He used to point up at it and say ‘I beat you dad’. Honestly, nothing makes me prouder.”