After receiving the True Blue Award from Brad Fittler and his NSW Origin coaching staff, Latrell Mitchell was asked who should be the next South Sydney captain.
“Look, there he is walking past. Captain Cody,” Mitchell laughed as he pointed to star Rabbitohs playmaker Cody Walker.
Mitchell, Walker, hooker Damien Cook and lock Cameron Murray are believed to be vying for the prestigious job after the departure of Adam Reynolds to Brisbane, and all would be worthy of the role.
The 24-year-old has been spending time with Souths co-owner Russell Crowe during the off-season but he insisted their conversations had been about cattle – not the captaincy.
However, Mitchell does have leadership aspirations and his credentials were on display in the winning NSW camp as he made a stunning return from the State of Origin wilderness.
Tom Trbojevic may have been voted by team-mates and fans as NSW’s best player, but Fittler, Greg Alexander, Craig Fitzgibbon and Danny Buderus felt that Mitchell was the player who best demonstrated the traits worthy of the True Blue award – tough, ruthless and united (TRU).
2021 Hard Earned Highlights - State of Origin I
“It is humbling and a privilege for my coaches to be able to see what qualities I am able to bring to the team,” Mitchell said.
“It just shows a lot of the character and resilience I have built over the years. I just love entertaining and to be honoured for being such a clubman in rep footy, and for my team-mates, is what I love playing for.”
The award capped Mitchell’s Origin redemption after the fall-out from his axing by Fittler following NSW’s 18-14 loss in the opening match of the 2019 series.
He had to wait two years for another chance and made the most of it, by scoring tries, setting them up for team-mates, converting them and - importantly to the Blues coaching staff - stopping them.
After recalling Mitchell for this year’s series opener in Townsville, Fittler included him to the NSW leadership group and the fullback-come-centre revelled in the responsibility on and off the field.
“I think I had that role at a very young age coming into the game, but I just had to bide my time,” Mitchell said. “I just didn’t say much, I just did it by action.
“I still do that but to be able to have input now and the younger fellows and even older fellows listen. I’ve had that experience and that exposure now, and I have earned the role.”
Yet Mitchell’s season ended in controversy after he was suspended for a high tackle that left former Roosters team-mate and house-mate Joey Manu with facial fractures, and he remains banned until round three of the 2022 Telstra Premiership.
2021 Hard Earned Highlights - State of Origin II
Mitchell’s return against the Roosters will provide added spice to the NRL’s oldest rivalry but after missing the grand final he believes the All Stars clash on February 12 should be included in his suspension.
The proud Birrbay and Wiradjuri man points out that he did forego a trip to England with the Roosters for the 2019 World Club Challenge to play for the Indigenous All Stars in Melbourne, under Walker’s captaincy.
“That is a big part of my career and means a lot to my family so I think it should count,” Mitchell said. “Obviously not being able to play my third grand final was disappointing but there is another year ahead of us and I am ready to go.
“There is going to be a lot more enjoyable moments ahead and there is obviously going to be the bad times as well, but I know how to deal with them and if there is another challenge out there, I will overcome it.”
2021 Hard Earned Highlights - State of Origin III
He is also unconcerned by the prospect of making his return from the six-match suspension against the Roosters and Manu, who this week committed to the eastern suburbs-based club until the end of the 2025 season.
“It is the entertainment business, and I am ready to entertain in round three when it comes,” Mitchell said. “We had a yarn that night, things happen in a game of footy and we have got to move on now. I hope he is doing well, and I congratulate him on his signing.”
In the meantime, Mitchell has been working on his farm near Taree, and he even joked: “If I could, I would give up footy and become a farmer”.
With Crowe also owning a farm at Nana Glen, near Coffs Harbour, Mitchell has been seeking advice from the actor and Rabbitohs co-owner.
“I am starting my own cattle business, so I just went to see him. It was good,” Mitchell said. “We talked farming, family and had a feed.
"It has been good to get amongst him and see what he has been doing. He has been really busy, travelling and doing what he does.
“To see him in his personal life is obviously a privilege and an honour for me because I get to go up and see him. I can’t thank the club enough, from the CEO [Blake Solly] and Russell down.
“I love the club and the community. I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore at Redfern. I love what it brings to me as a player and as a man, it brings all the qualities out in me.”