Latrell on Gagai watch
Sydney Roosters centre Latrell Mitchell will be wary of the in-form Dane Gagai and former teammate Shaun Kenny-Dowall when he comes up against the pair in Friday night's clash with the Knights.
Gagai was the first winger in State of Origin history to win the Wally Lewis Medal following Queensland's 2-1 series victory and with his Newcastle career coming to a close is desperate to go out a winner.
With Knights winger Brendan Elliot making way for the NRL return of Kenny-Dowall on the wing, the new-look combination will pose a threat against Mitchell and Daniel Tupou.
"I've got to come out all guns blazing and get on top of [Gagai] early," Mitchell told NRL.com.
"He's light footed and quick around the ruck so our boys can't afford to give him too much space."
Mitchell played alongside Gagai for the Indigenous All Stars side back in February and with the 26-year-old set to head to South Sydney in 2018, the rivalry is only going to grow bigger in the future.
"Honestly I was just star-struck to be able to sit there and eat lunch or dinner on the same table as him for the week," Mitchell laughed.
"To be able to play with him was even more special because the type of player he is. He's was an Origin standout and in form so I've got to be on my game."
It was in Round 7 earlier this season that Mitchell was dropped from Trent Robinson's side after the Roosters suffered back-to-back losses to Manly and Brisbane.
The 19-year-old missed the following clash against the Knights in Newcastle.
He had missed four tackles in the loss to the Sea Eagles as Dylan Walker scored a last-minute four-pointer, before coming up with three errors against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
KEY MATCH-UP | LATRELL MITCHELL V DANE GAGAI
14 | PLAYED | 16
59 | TACKLE BREAKS | 96
1286 | ALL RUN METRES | 2044
11 | LINE BREAKS | 8
9 | TRIES | 2
Mitchell grew up in Taree and was let go by the Knights at a young age so Robinson's decision to axe him ahead of the clash against Newcastle hit him hard, but he understood the reasons.
"Robbo knew what he was doing," Mitchell admitted.
"I got complacent and took my position for granted. He just said have a rest and come back with some fire in the belly. Those two games I had before that weren't me and I didn't play to my ability.
"I was burning and the media ran with it too but ever since then it's about what you do after it and how you bounce back.
"I fought for a first-grade spot and then once I got it started thinking I was certain to stay and would make the team every week.
"It was a bad mentality to have and I snapped out of it after that. The centres for Wyong are firing at the moment and that keeps me on my toes and a bit honest now."
The former Australian schoolboy will take on Brock Lamb for the second time in his career – ironically the player that stood in his way coming through the Knights' junior system.
"I always have wanted to play footy closer to home and to head down to trial for Newcastle I was stoked but they didn't pick me," Mitchell said.
"They were keen on Brock as I was playing five-eighth at the time too. He's a great bloke and we've gone on to play for Australian schoolboys together and other junior rep teams so there was never any bad blood there.
"We still talk often and watching his game against the Bulldogs a few weeks ago, in just his second year it was a big credit to him for stepping up to take that kick. I'm not sure I would have in that moment."
This article first appeared on NRL.COM