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Gagai knows first-hand not to poke 'bear' Mitchell

Over the past four seasons, Dane Gagai spent hours studying Latrell Mitchell's game from the moment the pair first faced off in 2016 and there's one thing he learned fast - you don't poke a bear.

Mitchell has the wood over Gagai slightly, with a 6-5 record, which includes an even 50% split at Origin level.

It's why Gagai says, with Mitchell now at the Rabbitohs, that the one thing he's learned about the former Roosters star in recent years - there's nothing worse than facing a fired-up Latrell Mitchell.

The NSW and Australian representative will face his former club next Friday after the recent social distancing controversy and questions being raised about the Indigenous All Stars representative's fitness in the pre-season.

When asked if Mitchell was prepared for the attention around the challenges of playing fullback and coming up against the Roosters for the first time, Gagai offered a "you'll have to ask him that question" response before expanding.

Latrell Mitchell goes through his paces at Rabbitohs training at Redfern.
Latrell Mitchell goes through his paces at Rabbitohs training at Redfern. ©NRL Photos

"But he's the type of person that doesn't like to lose and he'll compete no matter what," Gagai said on Wednesday.

"It doesn't take much to get him going. If there's something that motivates him ... it's one thing that we spoke about when we were coming up against him is you don't want to poke the bear.

"I think he's got that in him but it doesn't take much to get him motivated."

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Gagai's biggest battles with his Rabbitohs teammate came during the 2018 Origin series when he and former Maroons centre Will Chambers tried to nullify Mitchell's power on the Blues' left edge while often getting caught up engaging in verbal exchanges with the NSW star.

But Gagai, 29, who joined the Rabbitohs from Newcastle in a bid to win a title under Wayne Bennett, believes Mitchell has the same hunger to help deliver one at Redfern.

"He's a very confident player, we've all seen that," Gagai said. "He's really taken on a leadership role from the back there and being really dominant.

"Something about Latrell is coming back into the Bunnies there was talk about his weight and stuff.

"The things you don't see in the gym and that, you see how competitive he is on the football field but no matter where he is he's just got that desire to want to win another premiership.

"He's already got two and he's going for a third and you can see that in the gym, just his work ethic on the field and everywhere. He just wants to compete and wants to win and wants another premiership.

"All the players around him see that and when you've got someone like that it's very infectious. He's definitely an asset to the team."

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Meanwhile, Gagai was thrilled to hear the news of former Rabbitohs teammate Greg Inglis coming out of retirement to join English Super League club Warrington for the 2021 season.

Inglis announced he was hanging up the boots in April last year through a lack of desire to continue at the elite level.

He had battled injuries and mental health issues, which he continues to openly address in retirement.

"I couldn't be happier for the big fella," Gagai said.

"He's a legend of the game and I guess the terms he left here was due to injuries and his body just needed a breakthrough the amount of years he'd been playing and the level he's been playing at."

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Asked if Inglis would be up for the challenge physically and mentally, Gagai said "100%".

"He's one of the most professional trainers, he works hard and you forget his age because he's been playing in the NRL for so long and at a high level," he said.

"I don't think his body had a chance to have a break. He was always working hard and performing at an elite level.

"I think this bit of time off has given his body time to heal the little niggling injuries.

"I don't think [Warrington] would've signed him and he wouldn't have signed if he didn't think he could perform."