Sydney Roosters flyer Latrell Mitchell scored two tries and kicked two goals but it was another moment in the 28-26 trial win over the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles that caught coach Trent Robinson’s eye.
It typified two things for Robinson about the 20-year-old heading into his third Telstra Premiership season – his hunger and his fitness.
It might also mean the end to any sabbaticals in the Intrust Super Premiership, where Mitchell ended up after round seven last year for three weeks following Robinson’s not-so-subtle nudge to improve.
Let’s set the scene from Saturday night in Gosford. The Sea Eagles have a bucket load of possession and are up 16-0 and it’s only the 14th minute.
But it looks like more points are coming as Daly Cherry-Evans collects a grubber in his own in-goal area and races 70 metres before two Roosters catch up with him and the ball comes loose.
Robinson now takes up the story.
“… that break from Manly, chased down from Cooper (Cronk) and (Daniel) Tupou. Mitch Cornish gets to dummy half and Latrell has to get there to then sort out that (next) play,” Robinson said.
“So the big thing – and of course we all like the way he ran down that sideline – was the movement to get back onside and get that ball. That’s the bit that showed his fitness that encouraged him to get into the play.
“Then you get the movements that he’s been training and working hard for.”
The “movement” was a 60-metre Mitchell dance down the eastern touchline of Central Coast Stadium in which he scored.
It’s now 16-6 but Mitchell crosses a second time in the 38th minute to get the Roosters within a converted try at half-time.
“Strong pre-season. I think you can see how hard he’s worked,” Robinson said post-match, when asked to comment on the Mitchell contribution.
“He’s the fittest he’s been in his NRL career and in his lifetime and that’s the first run for him.
“He looked strong, really strong. He comes up with those plays but it’s based on (fitness and attitude)..”
A super fit Mitchell is a scary thing for oppositions in this 2018 Telstra Premiershsip season as they try to defend their right edge.
In his debut season in 2016, Mitchell scored 14 tries from 24 games. Last year, the Taree Red Rovers junior again topped the Roosters NRL squad with 15 from 23 games.
The points will perhaps be coming from between the sticks, as well as either side of the goal posts. Mitchell kicked two out of three conversions against Manly.
Starting prop Sio Siua Taukeiaho landed two from two, to give Robinson options in replacing Michael Gordon as goal kicker in 2018.
It looks very much like Taukeiaho will be given the tee, when the Roosters face the Wests Tigers in round one on March 10 at ANZ Stadium.
“Siua is that (first-choice kicker). Obviously Latrell kicks really well as well. It’s unorthodox but we see how it works,” Robinson said.
“I think he’s (Taukeiaho) kicked at 89% for Tonga in the World Cup, which is good pressure goalkicking.
“I think people’s perception is how can a middle guy kick like that? He was a centre at one stage when he used to goal-kick out at the Warriors, and he keeps improving.
“I don’t know if you saw but it’s a very simple technique and he’s very direct.”
His talent with the boot might also be the entrée for Taukeiaho to be in the starting 13 most weekends.
“Goalkicking is pretty important one for us, so they’re all fighting for positions,” Robinson said.
“He (Siua) can play lock, second row and front row. Isaac Liu has been playing good footy as well.”
Elsewhere, the only injury concern for the Roosters was a bruised kneecap for right centre Joseph Manu, which brought two trainers onto the field in the 45th minute.
“Just a knee clash at the time… that’s why it took two or three minutes and he was back into it,” Robinson said.