In our ‘Big Interview’ as the Championship’s #RLNewEra gets underway, NothingButLeague spoke to Batley Bulldogs forward and Warrington Wolves Community Rugby League Coach, Lee Mitchell.
At 26 years of age, Mitchell’s career has taken in spells on both sides of the Pennines plus a year in Australia.
The Billinge-born back-rower tells NothingButLeague about his association with rugby league so far, rejecting St. Helens as a youngster and how he fell out of and back in love with the game. While he discusses his role with the Wolves and looks towards his hopes for the future of the amateur game…
How did you first get into rugby league?
“I first got into rugby aged seven when my dad took me down to my local Community Rugby League Club, Rylands Sharks, before moving to Latchford Albion Unicorns a few years later.
“I was proud to play for my Community Club, especially because when we moved from Rylands to Latchford we were the first Junior team at the club. The club now has a strong Junior section which we helped to start.”
You began your career with Warrington, how did that move from the amateur side of the game come about?
“I came through all the youth systems at Warrington. I started in the Warrington Town Team at 10 years old and then played for Warrington in all the junior grades, regional and national teams. When I got to the age of 16, professional teams were allowed to offer me a contract. I went to meet with St Helens but, as Warrington was my home town team, I decided to sign for them and join up with the academy.”
You played in some big games during your time with the Wolves, what would you say was the highlight of your time there as a player?
“The highlight of my time was a try I scored against Leeds at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. I was only young at the time I hadn’t played many Super League games. I remember there being a scrum on the half way line, there was a carry from the scrum and I wrapped around to my side of the pitch to take the next carry. I managed to break through the line and go round the fullback to score in the corner.”
After leaving Warrington, you spent a year in Australia, how would you reflect on your time there?
“After I left Warrington I had lost my love for the sport and lost a lot of confidence. The opportunity came up to move out and play in Australia, so me and my girlfriend moved out there for a year.
“It was a great experience living on the Gold Coast although it was tough financially. I met some great people and a few of them have been over to see us in the UK since we have got back. Some are also coming later this year.
“Whilst I was over there I played for the Burleigh Bears and I really enjoyed playing for the club. I started the year in the Queensland Cup but then really enjoyed playing with the A Grade towards the end of the year. It was the bunch of lads in the A grade that really helped me get back my confidence and love for the sport.”
You’re now with Batley, how has pre-season gone?
“We have had a very good pre-season. The new league system gives teams like us the ability to dare to dream and get your self in and amongst the Super League teams. We are all feeling very fit and ready to go against Workington in the first game of the season on Sunday. It will be a long season and we will have to work hard for each other every week to put ourselves in strong position come the league split time.”
Looking towards the season ahead, what are your expectations for Batley in 2015?
“At Batley we have spoken about the ability to “dare to dream” which the new league structure gives us the ability to do. We have talked about getting a good start to the year, there is some great competition for places at the club which what is required for what will be a long and tough season. It keeps everyone on their toes and performing at the best they can. We believe if we work like we have throughout pre-season we will be looking to have a shot at getting in the Super 8.”
You also hold a role with Warrington, what does that involve and are you enjoying it?
“I am a Community Rugby League coach. The role will involve me and two others, one being ex England international Shaun Briscoe, going into all schools in Warrington to help give teachers the skills to teach rugby on their own. We will also look to do lots of work with our Community clubs in Warrington. The aim is to get as many people from the schools playing rugby in their spare time.
“We are working as part is the Sky Try initiative which is great for the sport and is a massive investment over the next seven years across the whole country. Because of this, foundations like ours will collectively look to engage with 100,000 children which is incredible.
“We at Warrington want to use it to leave a legacy and we have set some targets which will believe will leave this legacy long after The Sky investment.”
Are you excited about the ‘New Era’?
“I am excited by the New Era. I think the Sky Try investment is massive for the sport and the new league structures allow for a very competitive Super League and Championship set up. It has brought the Championship into the public eye a little more which is great for the sport as it is bigger than Super League although that is the pinnacle of the sport in our Country.
“I do like the look and feel to the sport this year which you may notice the big flags Super League teams have on show before the games on the pitch which all add to the spectacle of the sport and make it have more of a showcase feel. I believe the sport needs to show itself off a little more, because it is the greatest sport in the world.”