I want to inspire the next generation: Mitchell
The 2016 NRL Telstra Premiership season has been a whirlwind adventure for Roosters fullback Latrell Mitchell, but nothing will top the chance to do his culture proud when he takes the field against the Gold Coast Titans on Monday night in the final game of Indigenous Round.
"It's going to be my first one so it's going to be extra special for me," Mitchell told NRL.com.
"It's awesome that the NRL can bring the Indigenous stuff back into the game. We've got a lot of guys already playing and heaps more kids who want to play in the NRL so it's important for them to see [how appreciated they are]."
Mitchell had plenty of rugby league idols when he was growing up in the mid North Coast, NSW town of Taree and now he wants to fill that role for the current crop of aspiring Indigenous athletes coming through the ranks.
"It was always Matt Bowen, Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis," he said when describing his childhood heroes.
"When I saw 'JT' (Thurston) and 'GI' (Inglis) winning premierships and Dally M Medals it told me that I could do it. That's what I try to do now with the kids.
"I want to show them that they can do anything that they want to do and I hope my actions inspire them. I started where they are now so I know they can get to where I am if they put their minds to it."
The Roosters No.1 said the introduction of the Harvey Norman All Stars game in 2010 was one of the most important advancements in the game and pleaded with administrators to keep the concept alive beyond 2017.
"As soon as they brought the Indigenous All Stars game in it took my hunger to play NRL to another level," he said.
"There was a bit of a word that they were going to can it but if I get to play at least one year of it then I'd be absolutely stoked. It's one of my goals that I've always set out to achieve."
While the on-field part of the game is important, for Mitchell, nothing will trump the love and support of his family. While they won't be on the Gold Coast on Monday to cheer him on, he knows he wouldn't be where he is today without them.
"Culture is everything to me. I love my family and everyone in Taree that have had a hand in getting me to where I am today," he continued.
"I've always told my family that everything I'm doing now is for them, but they tell me I shouldn't think like that. I love my family and I'd do anything for them, and at the end of the day I just want them to be proud of me."
Still only 18 years old, Mitchell spent the mid-season representative break back in the beaches in Taree with his friends and family. But as he explained, the week away was more than just a time to unwind in the sun.
"I got back to Taree on the Friday afternoon and then the next day I went to watch the younger guys at my old clubs play so it was good to get out and see so many kids playing," Mitchell told NRL.com.
"I think it sort of inspired the kids too because they were always looking up to see if I was watching. I've always looked up to players before me and now I'm in this position I just want to have kids look up to me and be a good role model to them."
It's a responsibility he is proud to shoulder after seeing first-hand the effect NRL stars can have on Indigenous children.
"When I was younger we had a sign-up day at my old club and Luke Walsh and Mark O'Meley and a few other guys came over," the Roosters fullback recalled.
"After seeing those guys I said to myself that that's what I wanted in life. I promised myself that I'd make it one day so them being there inspired me to get to where I am now.
"Now I'm doing stuff at schools and I love it every time that I do it. After a game I'll sign every kid's jersey because I've been in that situation where I waited around for ages waiting for an NRL player to sign something or to get a photo with them after a game. Now that I'm here I can do it for them."
Approaching his 10th game in the NRL, Mitchell is keen to leave a mark on Indigenous Round with what has become his now trademark post-try celebration.
"On Anzac Day I tried to do a little kangaroo when I scored so I'll try to get that out again if I score on Monday," he explained.
"I saw Greg Inglis do the goanna, Wendell with the corner post and Matty Bowen did a little shake-a-leg so I thought no one has done a kangaroo yet. I think it's pretty cool."