‘I still enjoy being a kid’: Mitchell’s life in the fast lane

The GI comparison. Latrell Mitchell squirms, fidgets and then spits out a few thoughts about the inevitable question. He's heard it so much it should by now be comfortable, but it's still uncomfortable.

So, should GI junior be making his State of Origin debut alongside the man he's been forever compared to rather than watching him lead Queensland out for the first time?

Master and apprentice: Brad Fittler and Latrell Mitchell in high spirits at the NSW team announcement on Monday night.

Photo: Brook Mitchell

"Its where his heart is to be honest," Mitchell, raised just a couple of hours down the road from Inglis on the mid-NSW north coast shrugs. "I cant really say too much on that. Its all up to him. Its all individual stuff. Im just here playing for NSW."

Smart answer.

"[The comparison] just came out of nowhere to be honest," Mitchell adds. "Ive just had to put it behind me. As a young fella to get compared to the best player in the game at the time – he could be to this day – to be able to get compared to him was a massive accolade."


That sorted, of all the 11 fresh faces Brad Fittler will wheel out at the MCG next week for the series opener is there one as compelling and exciting as Mitchell?

Fittler's fascination with fast and perhaps foibled 20-somethings is best exemplified in the kid from Taree, who only has to stare across a fishing boat to know how life could be. Father Matt could have made it as a rugby league professional, but couldn't stomach city life. He left to go back home, his own father having died at the age of 43 and bad habits taking hold in the big smoke.

About 12 months ago, Latrell was rugby league's yo-yo man. His best brilliant, his worst way away from that. Still, you just couldn't look away when he was in the vicinity of the ball – even if he was only trying to halt its progress.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson sent him to reserve grade and sent him home, ironically on the back of his new NSW teammate James Roberts starring in Brisbane's pounding of the tricolours early in the year. Mitchell fished with family for a few days and has barely looked back since.

He is now a dad, his diet clean. He still loves time in the tinnie dropping a line, but he's top of the range if you listen to Roosters halves coach and NSW assistant Andrew Johns, who gushed about the "Ferrari" who needs more ball just a few weeks ago.

It was the perfect analogy. Mitchell's life has been fast; to the city, to NRL, to Origin, to fatherhood.

"Massive changes Ive had to do in my life," the 20-year-old says. "Ive obviously had to grow up a bit more for my age. Ive got a lot of responsibility, but I like to be a kid too. I enjoy doing that.

"Just having [daughter Inala, 11 months] in my life Ive got something to live for. I enjoy living a lot more now having her around, that family environment and raising my own."

Can he help raise a NSW rebellion? Can he defend Will Chambers? Can he make it out of the maze of split-second decisions centres need to make to stop their line being breached under the harshest of spotlights? Maybe.

He will have his Roosters and Blues captain Boyd Cordner helping a couple in with James Maloney splitting the pair. The Queensland brains trust have probably never had a shorter planning meeting deciding which NSW side to pepper for an Origin match.

Mitchell once broke his collarbone as a teenager untried at NRL level during an opposed session when he collided with Cordner. The skipper will more than repay the favour the next few games doing a mountain of dirty work to help the young tyro.

For his part, Mitchell says he works on defence more than anything else these days. Get it right and how good will his attack be? GI good?

You bet.

Adam Pengilly

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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