Queensland Origin centre Dane Gagai believes the return of Latrell Mitchell will help transform South Sydney back into a fully-fledged NRL title contender as the Rabbitohs prepare to flex their premiership muscle against ladder leaders Penrith next Sunday.
Fullback Mitchell was bouncing around the Rabbitohs changerooms after their 32-22 win over Cronulla on Saturday night, jumping out of his skin at the prospect of getting back into the action after a four-week suspension.
Mitchell's return will prompt an immediate backline shuffle with playmaker Cody Walker to switch back to his preferred position of five-eighth and Benji Marshall likely to head back to the bench as their X-factor utility.
Gagai said South Sydney would relish the prospect of getting Mitchell back in time to face the Panthers, with the Rabbitohs believing they're not too far from the level they need to play at to genuinely compete with the top clubs and push for a grand final in 2021.
"I don't think we're too far off, we are still missing a couple of key players there in Latrell and Campbell Graham," Gagai told NRL.com
"We just have to go to training and figure out how to put together a full game.
"I guess the build-up to Melbourne Storm we were letting teams get away with a lead and then chasing them down and Melbourne ended up getting away with that lead and then running away with it [to win 50-0].
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"Tonight we got off to a good start then we let them back in the game and that's something we have to work on.
"We were happy to come away with the win but we definitely need to be better.
"We've gone to three prelims now [in 2018, 2019 and 2020] and I'm getting pretty tired of that. I want to go to a grand final and [Mitchell] is definitely a key for us to do.
"We've been to three prelims and we know where we have to be better but knowing and doing is two completely different things.
"We just have to make sure we go to training with the right attitudes and I guess we have to want it, that's what it comes down to."
The Rabbitohs received positive news on Sunday when Gagai and fellow Queensland incumbent Jaydn Su'A were only handed fines for grade one charges after high contact incidents in the win over the Sharks.
With State of Origin just three weeks away Gagai said he expects to come up against Mitchell, with his teammate to come under strong consideration for a centre position in the Blues backline and oppose Gagai.
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"Yeah he deserves to be [NSW centre], he has played there before and he is a big strong competitive player," Gagai said.
"Everyone sees what such a weapon and threat [Mitchell] is. He is such a big strong body and he covers ground really well and his organisation and ball-playing skills are phenomenal for a big man.
"He definitely brings a lot to our team and he just brings that threat that the defence has to worry about.
"His aggression on the tryline when he is defending he is able to stop players that most fullbacks would not be able to stop so he definitely brings a lot."