South Sydney Rabbitohs‘ coach Jason Demetriou admits that he had to inquire who Rod Churchill was after an offensive text message criticising club star Latrell Mitchell was made public. Churchill, son of NRL immortal Clive Churchill, came under scrutiny last week for sending a message to Rabbitohs chairman Nick Pappas, in which he labelled Mitchell a “cancer”.
These derogatory remarks triggered rumours that Rabbitohs players might refuse the Clive Churchill Medal, presented on Grand Final night, if handed over by Rod. Despite his subsequent apology and offer to step down from the role, the ill feelings persist.
Demetriou recalled that upon hearing of the message, he was not familiar with who Churchill was. The offensive message was allegedly sent in May when the Rabbitohs were performing well before they were taken down by a shock defeat to the Eels and Mitchell’s subsequent calf injury, sidelining him for three months.
Churchill also cast doubt on Mitchell’s dedication, implying that the player ranked the club low on his list of concerns.
Referring to when the messages were purportedly sent, Demetriou highlighted that the team had a 75% win rate and were joint leaders of the ladder at the time. After adding that Mitchell played an integral role in the team’s success, he lamented Mitchell’s three-month absence due to injury.
He branded Churchill’s words as highly disrespectful towards Mitchell, his heritage, and particularly the club.
The Rabbitohs have undergone a tumultuous two weeks, with club legend Sam Burgess stepping down as assistant coach right before the finals, following reports about him accusing team officials of showing favouritism towards Mitchell and Cody Walker. Despite the obstacles, they are set to play against the Roosters on Friday.
Roosters‘ coach Trent Robinson extended his empathy to Demetriou despite their teams’ fierce rivalry. He admitted that he doesn’t know the Rabbitohs‘ coach well but recognised the challenges of having the bond between a coach and his players questioned.
This turbulent period could create potential drama, especially with Mitchell’s suspension, and coach Demetriou is hopeful that the situation might bond the team closer when they return to Accor Stadium after several months away due to the FIFA World Cup.
Considering that the Roosters are missing key players Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (due to suspension) and Joseph Manu, who hasn’t recovered from a hamstring strain, the Rabbitohs are mild favourites. Demetriou, however, is not taking anything for granted, recalling the previous year’s elimination final where seven players were sin binned. Despite the high stakes, he is confident of his players’ discipline.
“We’ve resolved to sharpen our game,” Demetriou reflected.
“We intend to play aggressively but discipline is everything. We can’t afford high shots, penalties or players being sent off.”