Latrell Mitchell had the last laugh as South Sydney retained bragging rights with a stirring 28-16 win over the Sydney Roosters in a pulsating NRL derby that lived up to the hype.
In Mitchell’s first outing against the Roosters since copping a season-ending ban last year for shattering Joey Manu’s cheekbone, the pair were fittingly in the thick of everything on Friday night.
Manu was awesome at times, but it was Mitchell who had Rabbitohs fans rejoicing after racing 50 metres to seal Souths’ first win of the season with his side’s fifth try.
“There’s a lot made in those games and a lot made up around them but the way that Latrell and Joey handled themselves was first class,” said Roosters coach Trent Robinson.
“Joey dealt with it a long time ago and he just wanted to get back playing and that’s where he’s at home.
Restored to the starting side after being benched in last week’s golden-point loss to Melbourne, skipper Cam Murray was mighty for the Rabbitohs.
He either scored or set up his side’s first three four-pointers in a powerhouse display at Accor Stadium.
The skipper’s heroics aside, the Mitchell-Manu clash dominated proceedings.
Incredibly, Manu – who needed three metal plates inserted after last year’s ugly incident – was left clutching his face again following a head clash with Mitchell on the Souths fullback’s very first kick return of the match.
Roosters fans’ worst fears were quickly allayed, though, when Manu carried on playing, seemingly unscathed.
Setting the tone, Murray surged past Roosters opposite Victor Radley to score the opening try early on.
The dynamic lock then pounced after Roosters winger Billy Smith couldn’t handle a speculator from James Tedesco and fired the ball out to Alex Johnstone for the prolific winger to cross for Souths’ second.
With Mitchell converting both, the Rabbitohs had shot to a 12-0 lead.
The Roosters badly needed inspiration and found it through Manu, whose beautiful step and inside ball put Tedesco away in the 25th minute.
After dragging the Roosters back into the contest, Manu was the man once more a minute into the second half when he beat three Rabbitohs and carried Mitchell over the line for an explosive solo effort.
The centre celebrated by slamming the ball down in jubilation next to Mitchell and letting his ex-teammate know in the flashpoint of the night.
Alas, Keary’s errant conversion proved extra costly when Murray put Cody Walker over three minutes later to extend Souths’ lead to eight points.
Mitchell’s own joyous celebrations were short-lived when he was disallowed a try after a video review picked up a knock-on from Johnstone in the lead-up.
The bunker also overturned a try to Keaon Koloamatangi but couldn’t deny the rampaging back-rower a second time when he all but sealed victory for the Rabbitohs in the 65th minute.
Manu was unfortunate to spill a Keary speculator that led to Mitchell’s runaway effort but it certainly added to the drama.
The Roosters’ fourth straight derby defeat leaves Robinson’s men alongside the Rabbitohs with a one-from-three start to 2022
But Souths mentor Jason Demetriou was delighted to notch his first win as an NRL head coach.
“We were slow to start against the Broncos and I thought we were unlucky last week, especially after dominating the second half,” he said.
“I felt from the kick-off tonight, we got back to what works for us and we made life hard for the Roosters.”