South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou says he didn't even know who Rod Churchill was after his comments labelling Latrell Mitchell a "cancer" leaked into the public domain.
Demetriou branded the remarks made by Churchill - the son of NRL Immortal Clive Churchill - "disrespectful" ahead of a must-win final-round NRL meeting with the Sydney Roosters.
Mitchell will not play against his former club at Accor Stadium on Friday due to suspension, but Churchill's comments surrounding the NRL superstar have dominated the build-up.
Churchill, who has since apologised for the remarks he sent in a text message, labelled Mitchell an "impostor" and said the fullback was "a complete myth who has the Aboriginal cause paramount and South Sydney second".
"(My reaction) first of all was, 'who?' I didn't know who he was," Demetriou said.
The timing of messages surfacing last Saturday - Churchill is believed to have sent his text in May - has raised eyebrows.
Its release came after a turbulent week when club legend Sam Burgess quit as an assistant to Demetriou after disagreements with the head coach over perceived preferential treatment of Mitchell and Cody Walker.
Souths are struggling to hold on to their place in the top eight and must beat the Roosters to ensure they play in the finals.
"When it's alleged they were sent was in round 12, we were at 75 per cent (win rate) and joint top of the table," Demetriou said.
"Latrell was a huge part of that and then he missed the next three months (with a calf injury).
"To throw those words at him are pretty disrespectful to him, his culture and most importantly our club."
Demetriou found an unlikely ally in Roosters coach Trent Robinson, who had watched Souths' dramas unfold from afar.
"I have some empathy for what's happened," Robinson said on Friday.
"I don't know their coach very well, I've said 'hello' a couple of times.
"It hasn't looked like (a scenario) you want as a head coach. You're a coach and you love your players and when that gets questioned, that's tough."
Demetriou said the increased scrutiny had brought the Bunnies closer together for what is expected to be a fiery affair.
Souths have won four straight games against the Roosters at Accor Stadium and their cause has been helped with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves (suspended), Daniel Tupou (knee) and Joey Manu (hamstring) unavailable to their arch-rivals.
"I think it (the last week) has obviously sharpened our resolve a little bit," Demetriou said.
"We want to get out there and play tough and aggressive as we normally do.
"We don't want to be giving away penalties or having blokes in the bin for high shots or anything like that.
"We've got to be disciplined with how we approach it."