Jason Demetriou, coach of the South Sydney team, has expressed his discontentment over the derogatory remarks made by Rod Churchill on the team’s key player, Latrell Mitchell. These comments came as a surprise as Demetriou claims to have been uncertain who Churchill was when he first heard the disrespectful statements. The targeted text message from Churchill, son of legendary Clive Churchill, was reportedly sent to club chairman, Nick Pappas.
Demetriou admitted his confusion and marked annoyance over the leakage of the private message to the media. The message criticising Mitchell was sent following the team’s defeat to Parramatta in round 12 – the Indigenous Round. The message read, “Your club will not win another comp for another 40 years if this imposter remains at Souths. He is a complete myth who has the Aboriginal cause paramount and South Sydney second, if at all. Nothing was done and now this cancer that is Mitchell has ruined the club.”
Churchill’s substantive criticism deeply upset Demetriou, especially due to the sudden public exposure with Souths‘ season hanging in the balance ahead of Friday night’s game against their rivals. Churchill has subsequently apologised for his harsh observations and is currently subject to review by the ARL Commission, which is considering revoking his mandate to present the Clive Churchill Medal to the Grand Final’s best player.
Coach Demetriou was particularly disappointed with the incident, stating “First of all, [I thought] who? I didn’t know who it was when I first heard it. You have to put it into context when these comments came out. We were at 75 per cent [win rate] and joint top of the table [then], and Latrell was a huge part of that. He missed three months from that point on. To throw those kind of words at him are pretty disrespectful to him and his culture and most importantly to our club.”
Demetriou further voiced his disapproval about the public response to the issue, expressing he found it regretful that “a supposed private text” made its way as a headline news. He re-emphasised, “To jump on the bandwagon and throw more mud on him, it’s disrespectful. Unfortunately, it sums up the way people view our Indigenous people sometimes.”
The coach reflected on Churchill’s legacy in the game, one highly respected and displayed across the South Sydney offices. But he was quick to point out, “His name is on the wall here in the offices and around the building. He’ll always be a massive part of our club. But with that comes some respect for the players out there doing it now as well.”
Demetriou criticised the ease with which people undermine others in this contemporary world, especially influential figures. He indicated that influential figures in distress are often prime targets for criticism.
Regrettably, Mitchell wouldn’t be playing in the clash against the Roosters due to suspension, but Demetriou was optimistic about winning against the Roosters and having Mitchell return for the initial week of the finals.
Recently, Mitchell faced accusations of receiving preferential treatment from Demetriou and Souths and was further confronted with Churchill’s comments. These incidents sparked fears that Mitchell, a representative of the Biripi and Wiradjuri tribes, might decide to step away from the sport altogether.
In the wake of the controversy, Mitchell sought solace in the wilderness, posting a tranquil sunset photo with the caption: “Can’t hear the noise from up here.”
An upbeat Demetriou expressed his happiness for Blake Taaffe, who will be replacing Mitchell as a fullback, stating that Taaffe having a chance to run out with a full-strength Souths side was an exciting prospect. Furthermore, he demonstrated significant admiration for the returning Roosters fullback, James Tedesco.
Demetriou shared, “I’m happy for him [Taaffe] to play with a strong side because most of the games he’s played this year, we’ve had blokes missing. When we did have a strong side, he was outstanding in New Zealand. [As for Tedesco], he’s a Roosters’ player this week, you’re not supposed to like him, but you can’t not respect what he’s done and who he is and how he conducts himself.”