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There’s a well-worn saying that the cover-up is often worse than the crime.
Rod Churchill committed no crime with his incendiary take down of South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell, but the cover-up is becoming almost Seinfeldian.
Churchill, the son of Rabbitohs legend Clive, slammed Mitchell in a text message to Souths chairman Nick Pappas in May as a “myth” and “imposter” who has the “Aboriginal cause paramount and South Sydney second”.
When the text message was circulated among ex-players last week along with an added line: “Nothing was done and now this cancer that is Mitchell has ruined the club.”
Churchill sent an apology to Pappas and Souths chief executive Blake Solly on Monday.
“I am writing to you to formally apologise for the newspaper comments attributed to me over the weekend. If you do not accept my apology I fully understand,” he wrote. “I admit my comments were a bit brutal, but it was said out of frustration and passion for the club, and for that I am sorry. I am also very embarrassed it was leaked to the media.”
South Sydney star Latrell Mitchell.Credit: Getty
Despite his apologies, when the original text found its way to The Sun-Herald and Sunday Telegraph, Churchill doubled down on his claims about Mitchell. In one interview, he described Mitchell as an “embarrassment to the No.1 jumper”.
On Monday morning, Churchill was on the back foot with his apology, specifically asking that the email be kept confidential and not leaked to the media.
He wrote: “I DO NOT want this apology to make its way to the papers or any media please, they have been on the phone already today and i told them NO MORE ! I said i would attempt to sort with you and the club.”
Imagine the club’s surprise, then, when Churchill handed the “full apology” to The Daily Telegraph, which ran the email in full on Monday night.
The only problem was it wasn’t the full apology. It was different to the apology sent to the club.
In his letter to the Telegraph, Churchill has added this line: “I’m also sure that there was no reference to ‘cancer’ in my text, and Nicholas would not have forwarded on the text. He would verify this. It must have been forwarded on by a 3rd party I don’t know?”
Pappas confirmed to this masthead that he didn’t share the text message, nor did it contain any reference to “cancer”.
Churchill has refused to answer specific questions from this masthead about whether he added the line, or if he shared the text with anyone. “Please let it go,” he said on Monday.
If Pappas didn’t share the text message as he claims, then who did? And who is the mysterious third party that has apparently doctored the original text?
Channel Nine’s Danny Weidler revealed on 100% Footy on Monday night that a theory being floated at South Sydney is someone at the Roosters leaked the text.
Souths and the Roosters meet in the final round of the season on Friday night, with the winner likely to sneak into the top eight.
“So someone at Souths has found a way to blame the Roosters for all this?” panellist Phil Gould laughed.
In his apology to Souths, Churchill also described Mitchell’s form as “embarrassing” but altered it in his version sent to the Telegraph, softening it to say it was “disappointing”.
He also claims in his email to Souths that he was bullied into making his remarks to the Sunday newspapers.
He wrote: “On Friday night the media – both papers – basically demanded of me to make a comment, otherwise the text would be printed in full, and that didn’t sit at all with me so i reluctantly did. The herald printed it anyway yesterday so i dont know why i bothered.”
Weidler, who broke the story for The Sun-Herald, denies this.
“I asked him if he wanted to comment further and I was surprised how much he had to say,” Weidler said.
Curiously, this paragraph was removed from the letter sent to the Telegraph.
Churchill did not reply to a detailed request for comment about the two apologies.
Meanwhile, the NRL is yet to speak to South Sydney about the incident amid calls to ban Churchill from presenting the medal struck in his father’s honour on grand final day. Since 1986, the Clive Churchill Medal has been awarded to the man of the match.
ARL Commission chairman Peter V’landys told this masthead on Sunday: “We would consider any concerns expressed by the South Sydney club”.
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