“You’re just a kid. You don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about … I look at you and I don’t see an intelligent, confident man; I see a cocky, scared shitless kid. But you’re a genius.”
Here is the thing that has been totally lost in the whole Latrell Mitchell saga: he’s just a kid.
Just like Robin William’s Sean McGuire tells Matt Damon’s troubled genius Will Hunting, he may be a total genius in some regards, but in others he is clueless.
Latrell Mitchell is a prodigious footballing talent. He may even go on to be a great of the game. Yet in the high-stakes world of rugby league wheelers and dealers he is less than helpless.
He is completely at the whim of the powerbrokers, the player managers, the coaches, the boards, the sponsors.
What chance does a 22-year-old lad from Taree in Biripi country really have in that world?
However, the ever-increasing criticism of the youngster seemingly attributes to him the wisdom and strategical abilities of someone far older and with lots of experience. Some people have even been revelling in his current misfortune.
I myself recently wrote an article about how Latrell needed to understand that centres didn’t command the biggest money.
However, when you think about his last two seasons, you can quickly see how he may have been led to think that he should.
The 2018 season was a breakout year for Mitchell.
Not only did he get picked for New South Wales, but he was awesome. His return of two tries didn’t do justice to his actual contribution, in which he monstered Will Chambers and was always dangerous. Further, under coach Brad Fittler he looked to have dealt with his biggest issue: brain explosions.
From the moment we laid eyes on the kid his natural ability and physique were obvious. What was also obvious was that he could make some bad choices. He could be put off his game. He could be riled up.
Try as Queensland might in the 2018 Origin series, Latrell Mitchell did not take the bait. He stuck to the game plan. He didn’t get put off his game. He walked away from the trash talk and niggle. And how much better was he for it? So much better.
New South Wales then won only their second series in over a decade.
Then in October 2018 Mitchell scored a try and four goals in the Roosters grand final victory. He scored 248 points for the season, including 17 tries.
I along with many others saw him as a fixture in the state and national teams for the foreseeable future. At the beginning of 2019 we at The Roar named him in our top five players in the game.
And he most certainly deserved it.
But he is just a kid. When setbacks occurred he wasn’t well placed to deal with them. And setbacks did occur.
At the beginning of June – just before State of Origin 1 – an allegation surfaced that there was a sex tape featuring Mitchell. While Latrell’s involvement was furiously denied, it surely had a detrimental effect on the young man.
What also had an effect was that his club five-eighth Luke Keary – and the man who was also to play with him in the Blues backline – got injured and missed selection.
As a result Mitchell had to forge a new defensive partnership with Blues debutant five eighth Cody Walker. And it didn’t go well, with a number of Queensland’s line breaks going through their spot in the line.
Further, neither Mitchell nor Walker sang the national anthem before Origin 1. I guess it might well irk Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians to hear that we were “young”. However, that action also brought a lot of pressure onto the kid’s shoulders.
In the aftermath of the 18-14 loss Mitchell was rested for the Roosters game against the Panthers, and while he scored two tries against the Bulldogs in the following game, when the NSW team for Origin 2 was read out Mitchell’s name was not there. He did not return for Game 3 either. That the Blues subsequently won the series – while not specifically laying the blame for the Game 1 loss at Mitchell’s feet – did not help the young man out at all.
Although he scored 19 tries for the Roosters in 2019 – and delivered the beautiful pass to Daniel Tupou that directly led to the matchwinning try in the grand final – somehow Latrell Mitchell has fallen from grace.
Why? Money. It all comes down to money.
On one hand you have the Roosters having to manage their salary cap and not being prepared to pay over $800,000 to keep the junior they developed. On the other hand you have Mitchell’s manager, Wayde Rushton, knowing that Mitchell is a star for whom he could get top dollar.
The problem then was that they didn’t get it. That further devalued Mitchell. All of a sudden he was adrift.
That was exacerbated by rumours that the Roosters want him gone for season 2020 and he still doesn’t have a club.
It’s a very bad situation for the young man to be in. While I understand that most of us can only dream of getting the $800,000 a season that Mitchell turned down, the logic in doing so wasn’t that bad.
Of course Mitchell would be hurt that his club won’t give him the biggest money and then withdrew their offer. Of course they went off looking for that money as vindication of his worth. I mean, what exactly is there about Latrell Mitchell that doesn’t scream ‘star’?
I’ve made comparisons of Mitchell with a young Greg Inglis before, as have others. There is no reason why he can’t transition successfully to fullback or five eighth and be a superstar. It is understandable that he and Rushton could see that too.
It is also understandable that Mitchell was upset and made comments in regard to Brad Fittler and his Blues axing that – in my opinion – were ill advised. They didn’t add to his value on the market, making him look like possibly a malcontent.
So now this incredibly talented high-value athlete is in limbo and lots of people are openly having a go at him for all sorts of things in mass public forums
But he’s just a kid.
And we need to recognise that and take care with him.
Latrell can be an example of the best of us. With our support he can blossom into an asset to the game and the community.
I personally hope the rumours are true and he finds his way to Wayne Bennett, because Uncle Wayne is a bloke who knows how to look after vulnerable and precious commodities like Mitchell.
I want to see Latrell Mitchell protected and nurtured so that we can see just how good he can be. Because I reckon his best will be outstanding.
So let’s all get off his back and remember that he is just a kid.