• Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has slammed the NRL over its handling of the season's promotional launch. (supplied)Source: supplied
South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett says the NRL has to take responsibility for the treatment of Latrell Mitchell after criticism of its television advertisement.
Jodan Perry

13 Mar 2020 - 2:44 PM  UPDATED 13 Mar 2020 - 2:59 PM

Earlier this month the National Rugby League released its 'Simply the Best' 2020 campaign promotion which featured a number of images that aimed to be inclusive.

Alongside some nostalgic moments in the game's history, there were plenty of shots of Pacific Islander players, vision of female players Karina Brown and Vanessa Foliaki kissing, and also Latrell Mitchell proudly wearing an Aboriginal flag while standing on a beach. 

The campaign drew a lot of positive response, but also some heavy criticism amongst the Australian public.

Commentator Paul Kent described the effort as "a box-ticking exercise".

"Bland, politically correct gestures from an NRL losing touch with the great majority of the game’s fans as it continues its blind path towards irrelevance," said Kent.

Today Show host Karl Stefanovic said it was “divisive” to show Mitchell standing alone in the scene.

Following the campaign's release, Latrell Mitchell again became the target of online trolling. 

Speaking in Redfern ahead of Souths' NRL season opener against the Sharks on Saturday night, coach Wayne Bennett showed his obvious frustration about how the season campaign launch was rolled out.

"Well, I'll tell you about the Ad. The Ad is the responsibility of the NRL. It had nothing to do with Latrell. He was told to be at a place at 5am in the morning, thought he was going to be passing the ball to somebody. Somebody comes up to him, puts a flag on his back and says 'this is what we're going to do with you'," said a visibly annoyed Bennett.

'Get in front'

Bennett said that Mitchell wasn't concerned about the fallout but he did speak with him when he noticed the attention coming his way. 

"I heard the NRL say that they'll stand behind him, but they need to stand in front of him.

"He was doing their job, it wasn't his idea .. the NRL need to get in front and say we take responsibility for what happened here."

Last week, Mitchell's manager Matt Rose told Newscorp that the 22-year-old is "very comfortable" about his portrayal in the campaign.

“He doesn’t shy away from the fact he is proud Aboriginal man," he said.

“If there is people out there with issues of the fact he is holding an Aboriginal flag then that is their problem.

“That is not Latrell’s."

Jodan Perry is the host of NITV's flagship Rugby League program, Over the Black Dot, which returns to screens Tuesday, 17 March at 830pm.