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For & Against: Will Latrell be a success at fullback for Souths?

Latrell Mitchell is already one of the most talked about players in the NRL but the spotlight will be turned up even brighter in 2020 as the 22-year-old sets out to prove he can be just as lethal at fullback as he was in the centres.

On sheer talent alone, there seems little doubt the gifted Rabbitoh will make a successful transition and take full advantage of the extra space at fullback to carve up defences.

There are many different demands in the No.1 jersey and Mitchell will be expected to run more metres than he did at centre, clean up kicks both in the air and on the deck, and support up the middle of the ruck in the mould of James Tedesco and Tom Trbojevic.

Each week, two experts will debate the game's hottest topics in our For & Against series. This week it's the big call to move Latrell Mitchell to fullback.

For reporter Chris Kennedy

He’s the story of the off-season and all eyes will be on former Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell as he attempts to make a go if it at fullback for the Rabbitohs this year.

It’s important for the Rabbitohs he finds his feet quickly because his other likely spots – centre and five-eighth – are already well-served on the roster.

We got our first glimpse of the move in the recent All Stars clash but there was limited information on offer.

Five key match-ups of the Rabbitohs' 2020 draw

He played a decent spell at fullback, got a 10-minute rest then finished the game at centre, with just six carries for 67 metres and six busts.

But as much passion as there was on show, it was still an exhibition game and a thrown-together line-up. Importantly he didn’t look unfit, nor out of his depth, nor confused positionally, so while his impact was low the signs were more encouraging than otherwise.

His debut season in 2016 at fullback was a horror year at the Roosters all round and a very tough ask for a young player to come in in such a key position. Back then he was out of his depth at fullback but Mitchell is a far more established and confident player now.

Under the week-to-week tutelage of Wayne Bennett and Greg Inglis, and with some superstar playmakers in the Bunnies spine, the extra involvement required will be exactly what Mitchell needs to become the consistent game-breaker he has threatened to be for three years.

Question marks over his fitness will be quickly erased; it will be tough work but is the simplest thing to get right and by round three or four those questions will be gone as the Rabbitohs' high performance staff work their magic.

The real question is whether he can handle the talk and organising defence and the positional play defending kicks, which is where he struggled in 2016.

This will take longer to learn without doubt but for a man of Mitchell’s bottomless ability and competitiveness I expect him to be flying by about round eight.

All of Latrell Mitchell's tries from 2019

Against senior journalist Martin Lenehan

If ever there was a player with the talent and desire to leave egg on my face, it's Latrell Mitchell.

Blessed with an abundance of speed and skill, the Rabbitohs' star recruit already has two premierships to his name and played Origin and Test footy ... all at just 22 years of age.

But the question here is not whether Latrell can play, it's whether he can play fullback.

His flick pass in the lead-up to James Tedesco's match-winner in last year's grand final was sublime but this year he'll need to be the man backing up on the inside to finish the job.

Flashes of brilliance will still be most welcome but finding the reserves of energy to push up in support and ice a miracle play as Tedesco did in the GF and the Origin decider is a whole different story.

Will the extra running and kick returns into the teeth of the defence drain him and rob him of his brilliance?

Indigenous War Cry

Make no mistake, the Superstar Switch represents a monumental challenge for coach Wayne Bennett.

He's done it before, of course, transforming Darren Lockyer from one of the game's finest fullbacks to a champion five-eighth. Now he is going the other way and trying to turn a centre into a No.1 - a much tougher transition given the way the fullback's role has evolved.

So far, Latrell's had one crack at fullback in the All Stars game and he ended up back in the centres.

No need to panic, according to All Stars coach Laurie Daley.

“We certainly weren’t going to get the finished product - he’s still learning the role,” Daley said.

“He will get better as the season goes on."

But how long can Bennett wait for Mitchell to get better?

It'll be a baptism of fire in the opening month as the Rabbitohs confront four of last year's finalists in the Sharks, Broncos, Roosters and Storm.

He's too good a player to be a total flop at fullback but given the enormous expectations, a return to more familiar surroundings in the centres could be on the cards if the new-look backline doesn't click in a hurry.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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