Brutal way Latrell discovered Blues axing
The rumours were spreading too quickly and too early for Latrell Mitchell to have been impervious.
Swirling around the SCG early on Sunday before the Roosters' 38-12 win over the Bulldogs was news that Mitchell needed a big game to hold onto his position as the NSW left centre.
He indulged Brad Fittler's whispered edict by scoring two tries and showing glimpses of the form that made him a contender for being the best player in rugby league just five weeks ago.
There was a mountain of evidence to suggest the 22-year-old had done enough to hold onto his spot - giving Blues coach Fittler exactly what he wanted against the Bulldogs.
When the full time siren sounded at the SCG, Mitchell must surely have been confident of keeping his place in the Blues' 17.
His hopes were about to be dashed - on the day he celebrated his 22nd birthday.
Roosters captain and NSW leader Boyd Cordner reportedly informed Mitchell he was out while the pair were still out on the SCG turf, just moments after the game ended.
The Daily Telegraph reports Mitchell had to hear the news from Cordner - who had been told of the Blues' Game 2 team when doing a live radio interview after the full time siren.
In a brutal moment for the Blues skipper, he had to tell both Mitchell and forward Angus Crichton that Fittler and the Blues' selectors hade moved them out.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson said in his post-match press conference the Roosters were given no prior warning about Mitchell's axing - and had no scope for easing the blow or letting him find out in a better way than what he did.
Despite Mitchell's two tries, Robinson said he understood Fittler's decision to cut Mitchell, saying the star centre "hasn't played as well as what he wanted over the last month".
"No one has asked about how they are going and that is fine," Robinson said.
"If I was coaching that team I'd choose the players that I really wanted to be out there for game two.
"I am not going to sit here and bag Freddy.
"I like Freddy. He is a good man. I love the way he coaches.
"I know what it is like to be in the seat. So go after it, Freddy, how you like."
Mitchell's axing is just one of seven changes to the Blues team for Sunday's Origin II blockbuster in Perth - but it was the most discussed gamble of the all.
Some commentators have declared it is the biggest roll of the dice in Fittler's coaching career - others believe it is a sign the former Panthers and Roosters legend has "lost the plot".
The Blues mentor, who won his first series in charge last year, suggested Mitchell has paid the price for failing to meet his team standards.
He did not elaborate on what the failings were.
"I'm sure he's going to be back and I saw he scored a couple of tries today, but we want to set standards and expectations and I most probably didn't think he matched them in the first game," Fittler said in his team announcement on Sunday night.
"That's the hardest thing I've had to do so far.
"His training was great. I didn't get that sign at all, but watching his footy for the Roosters and the game up at Suncorp... we most probably needed more energy, more input into the game.
"And that's why we've gone with someone that will give us more energy."
And while there was widespread speculation the Sydney Roosters' centre was dealing with some off-field issues, Fittler insisted his decision was purely on form.
"The biggest (factor) was we had expectations up at Suncorp and he made sure he didn't meet those expectations," Fittler said.
"We really need our players to work hard for each other and, at the end of the day, Queensland wanted it more than us which is a bit of a shame.
"Latrell, he's a bit of a consequence of that.
"His week (preparing for game one) was fantastic. It was nothing to do with anything off the field - it was purely on the field."
Queensland legend Shane Webcke said on Sunday Mitchell's omission shows NSW has "panicked" after losing Game 1.
Queensland made just two forced changes to the side that won the series opener in Brisbane.
"It's just crazy," Webcke told The Courier-Mail.
"I just saw their team and all I can say is, 'Wow ... what are they thinking?'
"A good example is Josh Morris. He was bloody strong in Game One and is a real steady hand in the centres. I don't understand why he was dropped.
"I think they have panicked.
"This is not like 'Freddy' Fittler either. He is usually so composed but it looks shaky for NSW ... it's bloody beautiful for Queensland."
NSW TEAM FOR ORIGIN II:
James Tedesco, Blake Ferguson, Tom Trbojevic, Jack Wighton, Josh Addo-Carr, James Maloney, Nathan Cleary, Daniel Saifiti, Damien Cook, Paul Vaughan, Boyd Cordner (c), Tyson Frizell, Jake Trbojevic. Reserves: Dale Finucane, Tariq Sims, Cameron Murray, Wade Graham.