Brisbane Broncos legend Justin Hodges has called on Latrell Mitchell to stay in the game, addressing him as a beacon uniting and motivating the Indigenous community in sport. He refutes allegations of rugby being a racially prejudiced sport, speculating that Mitchell has been unfairly targeted due to “tall poppy syndrome”, thus being blamed for South Sydney‘s poor performance.
Recently, Rod Churchill, Clive’s son and former Rabbitohs star, sparked controversy after using words such as “myth”, “embarrassment” and “overrated” to describe Mitchell’s game. The stakes are high for South Sydney in their game against the Sydney Roosters this coming Friday, a crucial match for a spot in the finals.
“I see the criticism directed toward Latrell and Cody Walker as being exaggerated. Let Latrell focus on the game,” said Hodges, now an advocate for grassroots development at the Broncos. “Latrell has become an icon in the sport and regardless of where he goes, he is recognisable and often the scapegoat due to tall poppy syndrome. People should really keep their negative comments to themselves. We should be supporting Mitchell, not criticising him. He is a terrific player and representative for rugby league.”
Khoder Nasser, Anthony Mundine’s former manager, recently denounced rugby league as “a racist game” in the Nine newspapers. He proposed that the sport could potentially push Mitchell away from the NRL. However, Gorden Tallis, a respected Indigenous player, suggested differentiating game performance critique from racism.
“I concur with Gorden, rugby league is a sport that promotes inclusivity,” said Hodges. “Certainly, racism exists within society and we mustn’t turn a blind eye to that. Rugby league has pioneered with its first Indigenous captain, Arthur Beetson, who forged a path forward for Indigenous players like myself and Latrell.”
Having had resided with Beetson, Hodges was privy to anecdotes about the racial challenges Beetson faced. Hodges said Beetson was ready to combat these issues for the future of his people. Hodges also bears witness to the significant role Mitchell plays in overseeing Beetson’s legacy amongst future generations through his grassroots work.
“I get upset when individuals vilify him as he does remarkable things for our sport,” Hodges said. “During my development work with the Broncos, children often express their excitement about meeting Latrell.”
In his work with young Indigenous kids, Hodges acknowledged that they often encounter racist comments in school. However, he believes that while this is a global issue, it is not extensively prevalent in rugby league. During his 15-year tenure in NRL, Hodges stated that he himself has never experienced racism.
Mitchell’s recent on-field performance critique shouldn’t be seen as racially driven, according to Hodges. He mentioned how much admiration his son has for Mitchell, describing the joy he saw when they met. Hodges compared the situation to that experienced by Anthony Mundine – another player misunderstood as arrogant but a great person and role model for the game in reality.