Speaking on the behalf of all rugby league fans, we can’t get enough of this sport. It is an indulgence like no other. We live it, we breathe it, we love rugby league.
But there are times when we must step back.
Off-seasons are hell for NRL fans. We miss the breathtaking tries, the bone-rattling hits, we miss celebrating our team’s win, and we miss watching our enemies lose. And it’s in this offseason where, due to a simple hunger for the sport, we must look off the field for stories, to keep our hunger at bay.
But when is enough, enough?
Latrell Mitchell is a rugby league superstar. At just 22 years old, he’s been part of two victorious Origin campaigns, he’s played for his country, he’s won back-to-back premierships. His highlight reel is ridiculous, and yet we still have a decade more to come.
But we won’t if pressure him. It’s easy to forget just how young Mitchell is. Not only is his trophy cabinet full, but Mitchell is a father. A man who simply wants to play the game he loves, and give his family everything he possibly can.
But at a young age, it’s easy to let head noise overcome you, and it’s hard to block out everything around you, when everything in the papers, everything on television, is about you.
Hence why Latrell disappeared to his home town of Taree this week. To escape from the pressure, from the head noise, to simply sit back and enjoy life before it all gets hectic again.
There’s no doubt every club would be looking at their salary cap to try and accommodate the young star. His talent is unprecedented, and the maturity he showed battling a host of racial slurs shows his leadership qualities. But he’s still just 22. It’s easy to say he drifts in and out of games, because he does, and he’s recognised that, but he’s still 22.
And with every story, every post, saying he’s going here, he’s going there, the head noise builds, the pressure builds, and if it continues to go this way, we could see Latrell, and a host of other stars, walk away from the game simply to escape the spotlight. And speaking on behalf of the game, we cannot afford to see our brightest stars leave the game so early.
Latrell has already said he’d consider walking away from the game at the age of 30.
“I’ll give myself eight years until I’m 30 and then see where I’m at. Cooper has got the mental capacity to keep going that long. I couldn’t do it,” Mitchell said in the lead up to this year’s NRL Grand Final.
Rugby league, we must take a step back. Wherever Mitchell does land for 2021, whether it’s in Bondi, Townsville, Redfern or somewhere else, he’ll fill the highlight reels just as he has done since debuting in 2016. Of course, we want to know where he’ll land, every fan wants him at their club, but the Indigenous All Star needs space.
If we keep pushing him, or any young star for that matter, there’s every chance we could lose them from this great game. The greatest game of all.