“It was pretty much, ‘You’re too small, don’t have the talent,’” Moses recalled of the heartbreaking conversation.
Uncle Benny leant on a few of his Tigers connections and convinced them to take a look. It didn’t take long for them to come to the conclusion that the scrawny teen could, in fact, play a bit.
Before long he was back in the black, white and gold, pushing for first-grade selection just as he was graduating from Holy Cross College.
“Fast forward and he ended up with me at the Tigers, I was working under him,” Moses said of Reddy, who made his own shift from Parramatta to Concord to take up an assistant coaching role.
So there was Reddy, helping to introduce Moses into the NRL just a few short years after deciding he wasn’t up to it. Reddy declined to comment on the reunion, but Moses reckons it didn’t take long to smooth things over.
“I’ve got no grudges there with how it panned out. It was a big joke, he’s a champion bloke,” Moses said. “The Tigers gave me a chance to play first-grade footy. It wasn’t about proving a point or anything like that. To be able to play first-grade footy, I’m happy with how it panned out.
“I remember having a conversation with [Reddy] and he said, ‘I didn’t think you’d turn out like this.’”
Moses has eventually turned out to be the Parramatta halfback they have been longing for. The seeds for his return were sown five years ago from more than 12,000km away. Bernie Gurr, a former Roosters first-grader and chief executive, was an executive at a logistics firm in California, catching NRL games whenever time or the time difference permitted.
A student of the game, Gurr was struck by Moses’ composure and ability to run a short-side play as well as anyone in the game.
“I noticed Mitch’s potential and ability while I was watching games while living in the United States,” Gurr said.
Those performances made an impression that stuck with Gurr when he became Parramatta’s chief executive. When things started to go awry for Moses at the Tigers, Gurr didn’t have to work hard to convince Eels coach Brad Arthur and recruiter Peter Sharp to have a crack at the young playmaker.
Moses, meanwhile, was embroiled in one of the messiest contract negotiations in NRL history. Along with Brooks, James Tedesco, and Aarons Woods, Moses was a free agent. Negotiations for a new deal began amicably enough, with the club even allowing mysterious mentor and “footy whisper” Joe Wehbe into the inner sanctum as a sweetener for the quartet to re-sign.
But after Ivan Cleary arrived, he pulled Moses’ contract from the table. Moses didn’t see that bus coming. “It was hard at the time, but look at the situation I’m in now,” Moses said.
If the Eels defeat South Sydney on Saturday night, Moses will go up against the Cleary-coached Panthers next week, with the winner booking a grand final berth.
“It would be pretty exciting to come up against him in the finals,” Moses said. “I’m fully past all of that stuff, it was almost four years ago. It doesn’t faze me at all. They’ve gone in their direction, I’ve gone in my direction.
“Coming to Parramatta was the best move I’ve made in my career. I’ve got a great group here, a great coach. It’s worked out well for both parties.”
‘There was bad energy’
Moses couldn’t hit a barn door in the preseason. His career goal-kicking strike rate was 75.7 per cent coming into the summer, but when he arrived for training, he was spraying Steedens everywhere.
“In the preseason this year, I couldn’t kick a goal if my life depended on it.,” he said. “I remember going up to Brad saying ‘Mate, I can’t goal kick this year.’.”
Instead of relinquishing that responsibility, he has taken on more. He committed to the task and worked harder not on his goal-kicking but his game in general.
Another recent change was reducing the numbers within his inner circle. Gone are the sycophants forever telling him it was somebody else’s fault when performances weren’t up to scratch.
“All of those people are all gone,” Moses said. “I felt like there was bad energy around me. Narrowing down those people, getting those people out of my life has definitely helped me and my footy.
“Having less noise and trying to deal with stuff by yourself, not relying on people for advice, has helped me grow as a person.”
Arthur’s opinion is still one that matters. Another is that of Andrew Johns, the league Immortal brought into the help mentor the Eels halves.
“He’s been massive for me this season,” Moses said. “Any advice he wants to give me, I’m full of listening.”
While the coronavirus has limited Johns’ ability to work with Moses within Parramatta’s biosecurity bubble, the Newcastle legend has seen discernable improvements during as the current campaign has progressed.
Once he gets the balance right between it all, he’s a really dangerous player
“He’s a really excitable character, which you see when he plays,” Johns said. “That’s part of his game, he’s had a cooler head on occasions. That’s an area he’s been working on.
“I think his game management has improved out of sight, his kicking game. When he’s concentrating on that, he’s gone away a little bit from his running game. Once he gets the balance right between it all, he’s a really dangerous player.”
Perhaps better than anyone else, Johns knows what a halfback needs to do to be successful in October. So what advice will he give Moses ahead of the Rabbitohs clash?
“For halves in big games, you need to get your defence right early,” Johns said. “The big one thing for Mitchell this week is to really feel the tempo of the game, the momentum swings, especially this year, have been huge.
“Take advantage when you have the momentum. When they have got it, you have to understand you have to defend like crazy.”
‘I used to talk too much’
Mitchell Moses is posing up for a photo with his great mate Luke Brooks. It’s July of 2014 and Moses is about to make his NRL debut against Penrith.
Brooks is shy and barely utters a syllable when interviewed by the Herald. Moses, however, carried himself with a confidence that belies the fact he is a teenager yet to play first grade. Speaking to the Herald again six years later, he concedes the Moses of six years ago came off as pretty cocksure.
“I think I used to talk too much, that was my problem,” he said. “I’d give away too much and make headlines, that was my biggest mistake.
“It was very weird to be honest, coming into the squad was definitely hard, you learn from those mistakes you make. I’d like to think I’ve matured a bit as a player and person. That has helped me out a bit as well.”
There have been many experiences that have shaped the person Moses has become. One of them was representing Lebanon in 2017.
“I was probably 50-50 going into that World Cup as to whether I wanted to play, but I’m so glad I did,” he said.
“I got a closer look into my Lebanese heritage and background, it was really good times. I went on a trip there in the 2018 off season with some of the boys and loved my time there. It’s such a beautiful place, I’ve got a lot of family who grew up there.”
Which is why the Beirut blast in August hit close to home.
“It’s been tough to see how this has affected the Lebanese community,” he said. “You could say it’s another driver to do something this year.”
Moses hasn’t quite done enough to reunite with Lebanon coach Brad Fittler in NSW camp, but that could all change if he catches fire and becomes the Eels first halfback since Peter Sterling to lead the club to premiership glory.
“To win it this year would be unbelievable, but we’ve got to take it game by game,” Moses said. “Hopefully we can bring some joy to the Parramatta area.”
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Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.