New Rooster Anthony Mitchell, locked in a three-way battle for the hooking role in the late stages of Indigenous All Stars team voting, says he’s desperate to make the run-on side for 2012 after being a surprise late call-up for the injured Preston Campbell in this year’s game.
Mitchell had racked up just three NRL games for Parramatta when he was drafted in to the 2011 season opener, playing 44 minutes, making 20 tackles and two tackle-breaks in the Indigenous side’s 28-12 defeat.
It was an experience he describes as daunting yet rewarding.
“Oh yeah, it was very scary,” he told NRL.com. “I mean, Preston is basically the Aboriginal Dally Messenger; he created this idea, the whole scheme to get the NRL All Stars together.
“I think it’s a great concept but it was very daunting. You’re playing with the best in the world, such as JT and Matty Bowen and the likes… you can go through the whole team! Obviously the opposition as well… but it was a great experience and they took really good care of me.”
The 22-year-old was snapped up by tricolours coach Brian Smith midway through 2011 to help ease pressure on primary hooker Jake Friend, which coincided with the surprise early retirement of back-up rake Mark Riddell.
After acquitting himself well in his 10 games for the Roosters in 2011 club insiders are tipping a big year for the Cherbourg/Townsville junior, who came to Sydney after being spotted by Parramatta scout Rod Reddy as a raw-boned 17-year-old.
With less than a week to go before Indigenous team voting closes, Mitchell is neck and neck with the Bulldogs’ Joel Romelo and last year’s starting hooker for the Indigenous side, Canberra’s Travis Waddell.
Mitchell, who grew up idolising Queensland legend Allan Langer, says the trio have been fierce competitors on rugby league fields for the past decade.
“I’ve played with both of them actually growing up – I’ve played against Trav since I was probably 12 and played against Joel since around 14,” he revealed. “I admire both of them as players. Joel is really strong and robust and he can play at five-eighth as well. And Trav… he’s been playing for a long time in the NRL so he’s a lot more seasoned than the both of us.
“In regards to us competing we’re definitely different players but I really admire how they play and I think they are really good players.”
Mitchell said the All Stars occasion was entirely different to playing club football.
“It strikes home a little bit more I think… I think a lot of the boys who represented the Indigenous All Stars, it really struck a chord with them, that they were representing their people, and I’d love to represent them again,” he said.
The opportunity to interact with Indigenous youth in the week leading up to the game was also special, he said.
“The highlight was probably going to WhiteWater World with some of the young Indigenous kids who were selected from the schools and regions to come down and do an educational thing. It was awesome fun and all the kids really enjoyed it but I pretty much enjoyed it more than the kids did! I was up and down the slides more than they were!”
Mitchell said the opportunity to suit up in the Indigenous All Stars jersey again would be “massive”.
“It would be another tick in the box,” he enthused. “It’s something that I’m really aspiring to and it’s something that I really enjoyed last year and getting the opportunity again would be unbelievable and I’d be over the moon.
“It’s not every day you get selected in such a team and also to represent your people so… get the votes in and hopefully I can!”
Mitchell said he was looking forward to a strong 2012 season at his new home at Bondi.
“It’s been really good, I love the place,” he said. “They’ve really taken me in well. Smithy has been really good for me, especially been patient with my game and he’s really been helping me out along with the rest of the coaching staff and trainers.
“We started off the pre-season a couple of weeks ago and everyone is looking forward to next season… there’s a really good buzz around the place at the moment. It looks like a strong season for us.”
Mitchell said he would be looking to improve his defensive game in the off-season and was hoping to add bulk to his 87-kilogram frame.
“Probably just put on a few more kilos and just sharpen my pencils a bit more, get my skills up and work on my defence,” he said of his goals. “There are always areas where you can find ways to get better, so I’m just going to keep doing that.”
And his parting plea to fans as the clock winds down towards the November 28 cut-off for Indigenous team selection?
“Vote for me!”
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