Latrell: ‘There were days I couldn’t get out of bed’
LATRELL Mitchell has finally opened up on the ugly management split that threatened to derail his 2019 season, with the Roosters megastar revealing: "There were days I couldn't get out of bed".
Speaking on the eve of NRL Indigenous Round, rugby league's biggest Aboriginal figure has opened up on the saga that left him bedridden, wanting to skip training and in the season opener against South Sydney "feeling embarrassed for the first time as a footballer".
Yet after months of ongoing speculation, which has taken a heavy mental toll on the 21-year-old, Mitchell is now on the cusp of signing a new deal with rising player manager Wayde Rushton - an agent who, just like Jerry Maguire, believes a small client base is the key to athlete wellbeing.
Apart from being well received by Sydney Roosters chairman Nick Politis and coach Trent Robinson, news of the merger will also be welcomed by NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler - who has known for some time about the struggles of his strike centre.
Mitchell too says he heads into Friday night's Indigenous Round blockbuster against Newcastle feeling like "a giant weight has been lifted from my shoulders".
The centre conceded his public breakup with manager Steve Deacon, coupled with rumours about him being unhappy at the Roosters, then wanting to join Sydney rivals like South Sydney and Parramatta, had taken a heavy toll.
"There's been times this year where I couldn't get out of bed," Mitchell says. "Where I didn't want to get out of bed, didn't want to go to training, nothing.
"It was my first time dealing with a situation like this and I felt like if I could just stay in bed I'd be all right."
And when he did attend training, Mitchell concedes teammates could sense his increasing stress.
"It showed to the boys, yeah," he said. "They knew.
"I'm a guy who usually likes to chat a lot, have a joke and a laugh. So when I was quiet, they knew something was wrong.
"At times I tried to hide it, tried to talk a little more. But I just wasn't myself. I was unhappy and wanted to stay home with my missus and baby."
"Now with everything sorted it feels like a weight has been lifted," he says. "Coming into indigenous Round, and with Origin coming … yeah it all feels like perfect timing."
NEW MANAGEMENT DEAL
Mitchell revealed he is on the cusp of inking a new management deal with Rushton, the player agent who prefers to keep a small client base of 32 athletes - among them Knights superstar Kalyn Ponga.
While the incumbent Australian Test star declined to expand on his falling out with Deacon - saying only that the pair mutually agreed to separate - he revealed his entire family had been won over with Rushton and his wife Jenny after a meeting at the weekend.
"You can feel they want to help you," he said. "That's what hooked me.
"Initially, my missus said she had a good feeling. Then mum and dad were the same.
"I just feel like I can move on with my life now. Make sure my daughter (Inala, 1) is looked after for the rest of her life. That's all I want to do.
"I feel like a lot of weight has been lifted."
Quizzed on reports linking him to a Rabbitohs switch, Mitchell says: "There's nothing there.
"I don't know where it's come from but I'm not considering anything at this point. Right now, I couldn't be bothered talking about contracts."
Mitchell did however concede his ongoing off-field issues had affected his performance in the season opener against Souths, which included several physical confrontations with his arch rivals.
"Coming into that game I was so frustrated with everything that was going on," he recalls. "I couldn't take it out on anyone so … I tried to take it out on Souths. With how I carried on, the grubbiness, that's the first time I've ever felt embarrassed as a footballer.
"But with all that stuff now coming to an end, I feel like I'm starting to put things together on the field.
"Obviously, against Brisbane I went into a little trench, but I'll come out of it. It's great timing to have all this weight lifted."
With Cooper Cronk announcing this week that 2019 will be his farewell season, Mitchell said he would love to move into the No. 6 jersey next year alongside Luke Keary.
"I can see myself there, yeah," he says. "I'd love to train at five-eighth for a full pre-season.
"I played a lot at No. 6 as a kid, and I've seen my dad play there too. So I know the position.
"And I know if I trained that position for an entire pre-season I could do it. Originally it was the other way, I was a half who didn't know if he could play centre.
"I'd definitely be excited to take on a new role and take my game to another level."
GREATEST PLAYER IN THE GAME
Earlier this month, Mitchell was asked if he was rugby league's greatest player. And his response?
"Cameron Smith is the greatest," he says. "Then James Tedesco and Jason Taumalolo.
"Obviously, it (the discussion) is nice to hear, but I also think 'why?' - because I've only been in the game a short time.
"I haven't earned my spot like Cam Smith, who has led by example for years."
Mitchell, who only recently bought his own house, says NRL indigenous Round is the perfect opportunity to inspire.
"For indigenous Australians, there's this stereotype that says we're lazy, on the dole, get given houses," he says.
"Well, I want kids to know that I've never been on the dole in my life.
"I want them to know I finished school and just went out and got myself a house. It wasn't given to me for free, I bought it.
"I want to show young people that no matter what you want to be in life - doctor, footballer, veterinarian - if you work hard you can achieve.
"So go get educated, work hard and listen to people who can help you."
Now into his second year as a dad to daughter Inala, he says: "Absolute blessing.
"My daughter's made me realise my potential as a person. I could still be the childish kid out there mucking around but I've had to mature, had to man up. It's why one of my goals has been to buy a house. I'm striving to be great for her, not for myself."
Mitchell has urged NSW Origin coach Brad Fittler to pick fellow incumbent Blues centre James Roberts, even though he is currently playing reserve grade.
"I'd definitely pick him," he says. "Jimmy's a guy that comes from a rough background, and has had some tough times in his career. But when Wayne Bennett was his coach, he really nurtured him. That's what he needs now. Pick him and he'll do the job."
MAKE THEM FEAR YOU
Undoubtedly, Mitchell is the man who has made centre great again.
"And I do love playing there because of the personal battles you have," he says. "Other than prop, there isn't another position on the field where the battle is as personal.
"Whoever I go up against, I want to dominate them. Every game I want to make sure I'm striking fear into them. As soon as they've finish that week before playing the Roosters, I want them thinking that they've got us, thinking about me."
Mitchell laughs off suggestions he is off with the Roosters, his home since 16.
"There is a lot of soul inside our club," he says. "And when you sign up, you become attached. Even my parents felt it. I can say that being a Rooster has been massive for me, not only as a footballer, it's helped steer me in the right direction as a man, as a father … even setting my values, the Roosters have been massive.
"So now with everything sorted, my only focus is going back-to-back."