NSW centre Latrell Mitchell has admitted he feared he would never walk again as visions of Alex McKinnon flashed through his mind last Friday night.
Mitchell, who is expecting to be fit to play in the second game of the series on Sunday night, has spoken for the first time since suffering the frightening neck injury against the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium two nights ago.
The 21-year-old, who was stretchered from the field after accidentally getting his head caught under Blues teammate Nathan Cleary, conceded that he let his mind take him to a dark place while laying there in tears near the tryline.
"It was a scare for me," Mitchell admitted on Sunday night from the Blues team hotel in Coogee.
"Everything was running in my head at the time. I was a bit emotional when I was laying there waiting for that stretcher to come out. I felt like am I ever going to play again, is this the end? I was thinking about all the negatives if I am honest. I can only imagine what my mum and dad were feeling ... I was very grateful to be walking still.
"What I felt was a massive crunch. I naturally instinctively thought I was gone. I had no sensations down my legs and arms so I started moving them. There were good signs. I went up to the doc and he had a feel around. I was a bit light-headed and stiff at the time, I was struggling to breathe. The first thing that hit me was being short of breath."
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One of the first things that crossed Mitchell's mind was memory of the horrific injury that has left Alex McKinnon as an incomplete quadriplegic.
"I thought of him straight away," Mitchell said.
"I remember when he went through it. I thought, 'Is this me now?' I got real scared. I was thinking 'Is my career over?' I wasn't even 21 at the time. I went into panic mode."
Vision of Tyrone Peachey checking on his Blues teammate while in the sin bin won't be forgotten in a hurry. The heart-warming gesture wasn't lost on Mitchell.
"It was awesome," Mitchell said of Peachey's visit to the opposition dressing room.
"I was sitting up trying to catch my breath. I respect the bloke even more now for coming in and seeing how I was. He is a good mate now. At the end of the day we're mates and we play footy for the fun of it."
Cleary was obviously rattled by the tackle that left his NSW teammate in a world of pain. They've since joked about it but Cleary felt sick in the stomach at the time.
"He messaged me straight after the game and I said mate don't worry about it, it was an accident," Mitchell said.
"That stuff happens. You can get twisted and roll into different spots. Whatever happens, happens. I said to him don't worry about it. I know he felt so bad."
Fittler confident Latrell will train
Blues coach Brad Fittler, who was on sideline duties with Channel Nine at the time, said Origin was the last thing on his mind when he went down.
"I was in the game where Phil Clarke broke his neck and kept playing and I've seen Alex McKinnon," Fittler said.
"Once he moved his hands it made you feel a little bit better and once you saw all these different little things ... the footy goes away for a while and you worry about their health."
Fittler said he expects Mitchell to play but will keep a close eye on him throughout the week.
"He's in," Fittler said.
"We'll be training on Tuesday and the stiffness is the thing that's going to get in the road the most. Obviously the demons are hard to train against. We'll get medical advice."
Cleary relieved Latrell is ok