“Latrell is still growing, maturing and he’s around great mentors like Wayne [Bennett]. Hopefully he realises that potential as a leader in the community.
“The best way to do that is obviously playing your best footy. But there is so much potential there for him to make a real difference.”
Mitchell has always been passionate and often unapologetically outspoken about Indigenous issues, and was always going to prove popular at Souths once he left bitter rivals the Roosters over the summer.
Within hours of being given a rock-star welcoming at Redfern, Mitchell turned to Souths officials and said: “I already feel like I’m home”.
Before Mitchell, young Indigenous fans identified with Souths’ Aboriginal heroes Inglis, Nathan Merritt before him, and Widders prior to that.
The 23-year-old Mitchell helped design Souths’ latest Indigenous jersey – more than 700 have been sold in less than a week – and Widders said he had the full support of some of league’s biggest indigenous names to help him become one of the game’s great statesmen.
Unlike Johnathan Thurston, Inglis and Justin Hodges, Mitchell has been thrust into the Sydney spotlight from an early age, said Widders, which he had handled well.
“The important thing for all of us in the game and for people in the Indigenous leadership group – there are elite players and some of us ex-players – we have to make sure we support Latrell all the way through so he does good things on and off the field,” Widders said.
Cody Walker is certainly glad Mitchell is back on deck, and like Widders knows his star power matched that of Inglis.
“If you go to different Aboriginal communities across NSW and Queensland, the No. 1 name on their lips is ‘Latrell Mitchell’,” Walker said.
“When Greg was playing he was a huge figure in our game, and Latrell has taken that on board as being a huge figure in the game. I’m lucky I got to play inside both of them and they’re a pleasure to play football with.”
Dane Gagai said: “Latrell has been great for us since the second period of the season starting, he’s a big body, he organises our defence well and he’s aggressive on the line.”
Gagai added Mitchell was disappointed with his striking suspension, but “he gets to come back for Indigenous Round and I’m sure he’ll come out and have a blinder”.
To help celebrate Indigenous Round, the NRL adopted the theme Pass Back. Move Forward. to highlight the importance of understanding and appreciating Indigenous history and culture in order to build a better future.
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.