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Mitchell's footy future off the field

by Tony Webeck

ISC17_News_TonyWebeck_Round23

Letting go of the past is so much easier when there is so much promise in your future.

After stints with three NRL clubs, Anthony Mitchell has become an integral part of the Townsville Blackhawks the past three seasons.

But at 28 years of age, he has decided that this year will be his last in top flight rugby league.

It was a double announcement in Townsville this week with the enigmatic Michael Parker-Walshe also announcing that this will be his final season in the Intrust Super Cup, but both insist there is much to look forward to.

For Mitchell, finding a way to combine his three passions of fitness and well-being, rugby league and working with kids convinced him that even though it might have been earlier than he'd expected, now is the right time to begin the next stage of his life.

“My body is at the stage now where it probably can't handle another full season of Cup,” Mitchell said ahead of the Blackhawks' blockbuster game against the PNG Hunters tomorrow afternoon.

“The standard of player you're playing against is not far off NRL and I just wasn't prepared to go through another shoulder reconstruction. I've had two on one shoulder already and I want to be able to lift my kid above my head when I get a bit older.

“I didn't expect to stop playing as young as I am now which is very tough, but I've got the majority of my life to live and my general well-being is outweighing any sadness in leaving the game.”

During his time with the Roosters and Eels, Mitchell spent time as a teacher's aide – but when he returned to Townsville to link with the Cowboys, he started his own personal training business.

He sold that in order to establish Phoenix Sports Performance; a rugby league-specific program not only designed to produce better footballers, but better young men.

Using his NRL experience and the personal tragedy of losing a friend to suicide, Mitchell has made mental health and personal development a major focus of the camps that have been running during school holidays for boys aged between 11-18.

“We're trying to make you the best player you can be, but also a good person and a resilient person,” explains Mitchell, who calls on some of his mates from the Cowboys to serve as ambassadors for the program.

“There is a cost to attend the program, but we try and subsidise a number of kids at each camp, whether that's foster kids or kids at risk or we seek sponsorship so some kids can attend.

“We have a lot of introverted kids who just need to be put into team-building activities where they need to speak up and thrown in the deep end so to speak and they seem to thrive from it.”

There is a pride in Mitchell's voice when he speaks of those who have used the program to develop their skills and earn representative selection, but it is their growth as young men that gives him the greatest satisfaction.

And this is why he is so excited about what he has the chance to achieve in the next stage of his life.

“The real win in it all is the way that kids conduct themselves the next time you see them after a camp,” Mitchell said.

“Day 1, we teach every kid how to shake a hand properly. No kid knows how to shake a hand. They come in with a limp hand, don't look you in the eye and don't say hello correctly.

"The next time you see them, if they come to a Blackhawks game, they are clearly engaged in what they are doing.

“That to me is great because if they have a job opportunity and that is the first interaction they have with a person, then it leaves an impression.

“Those little life lessons like that, if they are rubbing off on them and I'm noticing them doing that in public, that's the big win to me.”

Did you know?

He came to prominence at the Jets and is off to the Cowboys next season, but fullback Carlin Anderson is within reach of becoming the Blackhawks' leading point-scorer in just one season at the club. The club is still in its infancy, but Anderson's 210 points this season means he needs just five more to surpass Jonathon Reuben as the Blackhawks’' top point-scorer.

A former editor of Big League, Tony Webeck is the Chief Queensland Correspondent for NRL.com.