NRL spotlight battle for Latrell: Johnston

South Sydney teammates are concerned for Latrell Mitchell long-term future in the NRL.
South Sydney teammates are concerned for Latrell Mitchell long-term future in the NRL.

Alex Johnston admits South Sydney teammate Latrell Mitchell may be struggling to deal with the public scrutiny amid fears the NRL star could walk away from the game.

A drawn out off-season move from Sydney Roosters to South Sydney and a switch from centre to fullback had ensured Mitchell was a hot topic before the NRL was shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Critics slammed Mitchell for how he handled his club switch but worse was to come after two modest displays in the Rabbitohs' No.1 jersey.

Phil Gould even claimed Mitchell was of no value to his and wasn't ready to play NRL, let alone fullback this year, after Souths' 22-18 second round loss to Brisbane.

Johnston admitted the criticism may be taking its toll on Mitchell after Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook told the Sun-Herald he feared his new teammate may not see out his one-year South Sydney deal and retire.

"I don't know if he will walk away from the game but the media that comes with being Latrell Mitchell, he's a freak, I think a bit too much of that media might be playing with his head a bit," Johnston told Fox League Mornings.

Former NRL star Braith Anasta hinted that Mitchell should grow a thicker skin, saying criticism was "part of the job" of being a high profile player.

"It's hard to cope with (living in limelight), it is psychologically draining. There is so much scrutiny but it is part of the job," he told Fox League.

"I feel for the guys who go through tough times but you need to have a level of expectation that if you put yourself in that position it is going to happen."

If Mitchell does stay on Johnston hinted there may be more frustration to come for the two-times NRL premiership winner with a reshuffle in the Rabbitohs' backline a possibility when the game resumes from its pandemic-forced hiatus.

Johnston finished the clash against the Broncos at fullback with Mitchell relegated back to the centres in a move that may be a sign of things to come.

"I will have conversations with (coach) Wayne (Bennett) when we come back whether I am back in the starting side," Johnston said.

"I wouldn't mind scoring tries on the wing again but I do like playing footy at fullback. I grew up in that position.

"And I am coming to my peak (of career).

"If I got more time at fullback I think I will be one of the best in the game."

Australian Associated Press