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Gagai regrets 'missed opportunity' to mark Latrell

Rabbitohs fans might think he's crazy but Dane Gagai is regretting missing out on the opportunity to display his improved defensive skills by taking on Latrell Mitchell in the preliminary final.

Gagai and Mitchell are both Origin players and proud indigenous men and the Rabbitohs right centre was looking forward to opposing the Roosters left-side centre.

However, Mitchell will be absent on Saturday night at Allianz Stadium because of a dangerous tackle on Sharks centre Josh Dugan two weeks ago.

Gagai and Mitchell found themselves in different positions in three Holden State of Origin games this year so they didn't mark up on one another. They are 1-1 from the two earlier club games in the Telstra Premiership season – South Sydney winning round six; the Roosters triumphant round 22.

But Gagai would have liked another crack at the Taree ace who's scored 16 tries for the Tricolours this year.

"It's a credit to Latrell that he's had such a great season, made his Origin debut and then won the series with NSW. And he's still so young with a massive future in front of him," Gagai told NRL.com.

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"It's unfortunate he's not playing in such a big game this Saturday.

"He's a good lad and I know he would have been disappointed. But that's footy and that's life – sometimes things don't always go how you'd like.

"I was quite excited about facing him but in saying that, I don't care who they put in front of me.

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"I'll just worry about myself and doing my job. The people I want to look in the eye after a game and say I tried my hardest are my players and my coaches."

That hasn't always been easy for Gagai this year. He's missed 84 tackles and was averaging four per game.

But extra work at Redfern Oval has halved that average in the past month. He made 18 and missed only two in the semi-final win over the Dragons last Saturday.

"That's something I had to really focus on. I've come up with a few misses in D and for me, I had to put that much more focus on my defence, as I'd like to think I'm naturally an attacking player.

"So I've tried to work better with the boys around me, talk to them more, know how they like to defend so I connect better with them. It's a tough but simple game. And in defence it's about working hard for your mates."

Gagai has reaped rewards in other areas. He is back in the finals for the first time in five years. His only appearance in eight years in the NRL was with the Knights in 2013.

"I was at this point with Newcastle and I remember it being a very enjoyable couple of weeks. We only just scraped in to make the eight but had two wins [Bulldogs and Storm] to show that we earned our right to be there.

"We met the Roosters in the prelims and they did a job on us [40-14]."

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The subsequent years with the Knights were lean – three wooden spoons. That's enough to make any player think if he'll never see a grand final qualifier again.

"I realise it's been a while," Gagai said of his finals drought.

"Honestly the only thing I'm thinking about now is making sure I get away from footy as much as I can this week so I don't think about it all the time.

"I'll be hitting a lot of golf balls and spend time with the family. I just want to clear the mind so I'm ready to go come Saturday."

Roosters v Rabbitohs - Preliminary Final