Mitchell feared worst after horror tackle
LATRELL Mitchell feared his short rugby league career was over after suffering a neck injury that left him writhing on the field in pain.
The New South Wales centre says his immediate thoughts went to former Newcastle player Alex McKinnon, who suffered a devastating spinal injury four years ago.
The rugby league world held its collective breath after Mitchell was caught in an accidental crusher-style tackle at the hands of Blues teammate Nathan Cleary and was taken from the field on a stretcher during the Sydney Roosters' 32-6 win over Penrith at Allianz Stadium last Friday night.
Despite suffering severe neck pain, Mitchell has since been cleared of any long-term injury and will take his spot in the NSW side to play Queensland on Sunday night at ANZ Stadium.
An MRI scan revealed a ligament tear in Mitchell's neck, which could have been much worse.
"I was thinking about whether my career was over. I'm not even 21. I went into panic mode when one of the trainers held my head in place," said Mitchell, who turned 21 the day after the accident.
"That was the worst possibility you could think about. I am very grateful to be walking again.
"I heard a crunch. I was struggling to breath. I got real scared. That was the first thing to hit me, that I was short of breath. I couldn't get it out.
"I felt a massive crunch. Cleary landed on my neck, accidentally obviously. I just needed to move my arms and legs. I just couldn't move my neck.
"I instinctively thought I was gone but I didn't have any sensations down my legs and arms."
Mitchell conceded he immediately thought about McKinnon.
"I just thought of him straight away, if I'm honest," Mitchell said. "I remember when he went through it.
"I just thought: 'Is this me now?'
"I started moving, they were good signs. I went to the doc and he had a feel around. I sat up and felt a bit light-headed and a bit stiff at the time.
"I reckon I was pretty sweet, I could have walked off but they said, they didn't want to risk it. That one step could risk something."
Cleary showed considerable concern on the field and then again after the game.
"He messaged me straight after the game. I said 'it was an accident and these things happen'. You get twisted and put into different spots on the field," Mitchell said.
"You've got to know how to get through it and whatever happens, happens. It's footy. I knew he felt so bad. I messaged him straight up and told him I was sweet. I told him I was all right."
Cleary said he was gutted when hearing Mitchell scream on the field.
"I felt pretty bad, obviously," Cleary said. "I only became teammates with him not long ago. You never want to see anyone go down with a neck injury.
"I heard him on the field saying it was neck. I am just happy he's here and all is good."
Fittler said Blues staff would manage Mitchell psychologically if the incident had left him mentally scarred.
"If something happened, it was going to be dramatic," Fittler said. "I was in the game when (English and Roosters forward) Phil Clarke broke his neck and he nearly kept playing.
"Seeing Alex McKinnon and some different incidents over the years; the footy goes away and you're worried about their health."
Asked whether Mitchell may be gun shy, Fittler said: "We will obviously discuss that during the week. The demons, it's hard to train against them."
NSW teammate and Panthers utility Tyrone Peachey was sin-binned later in the game and walked directly into the Roosters' dressing room to check on Mitchell.
"It was awesome," Mitchell said. "I was sitting up trying to catch my breath. I respect the bloke even more now for coming in and seeing how I was. He is a good mate now.
"He is a credit to any team he plays for. I was surprised he came in and we had a laugh. At the end of the day, we are mates and we play for the fun of it."