Rod Churchill, son of the legendary fullback Clive Churchill, criticised Mitchell with a text message to Nick Pappas, South Sydney‘s chairman, denouncing him as a “cancer” that contributed to the club’s demise. This assault upon Mitchell’s character is just one of many, and led Churchill to publicly apologise and even offer to recuse himself from presenting the Clive Churchill Medal come Grand Final night.
Mitchell, the consistent target of fans’ disenchantment on social networking platforms, made it known last year how this relentless abuse could prompt players to abandon the NRL, as Adam Goodes did when he left the AFL.
Last week, amidst the turbulence surrounding Sam Burgess‘s resignation as assistant coach over allegations that officials gave preferential treatment to Mitchell and fellow player, Cody Walker, Mitchell left Sydney. This departure was compounded by a single game suspension which rendered Mitchell ineligible for their crucial match against the Roosters, a result of a belated incident in the game against Newcastle contributing to questions about his commitment.
Teammate Damien Cook expresses his concerns that players like Mitchell may be pushed towards an untimely retirement from exhaustion. “We don’t want a player of his calibre to stop playing prematurely just because he’s had enough of this,” said Cook.
Cook is hopeful that strong support can counter the external pressures that potentially lead to premature retirement from the sport. He added, “He’s arguably one of the most discussed NRL players and our duty is to shield him. Our fear is when he reaches his breaking point, given he’s accomplished so much in the sport.”
Walker expressed his concern about the distress his teammate has been experiencing and hopes that the backlash won’t influence Mitchell to prematurely finish his career.
Cam Murray, captain for the Rabbitohs, also expressed his commitment to Mitchell and empathised with dealing with negative media spotlight following the Burgess issues.