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Indigenous NRL stars' past regrets could cost them tickets to Vegas for showpiece game

Andrew Mathieson -

Latrell Mitchell and Reece Walsh are rolling the dice for their planned Las Vegas trip just weeks ahead of the NRL's double-header showpiece.

One of the two key drawcards for the season opener could have just as easily avoided the bright lights and stayed on the family farm while the other Indigenous talent lives just in hope of just finding his way to impress an American football legend once again.

But Walsh had to fly from Brisbane to Sydney a month ahead first amid a mercy dash on Wednesday to the US Consulate General to obtain a work visa.

Advice from the top of the NRL could not deter fears that a cocaine possession charge three years ago on the Gold Coast – despite not spending any time in prison – may not prevent Walsh from getting a clearance for the visit.

Brisbane Broncos officials have long held justifiable concerns that the matchwinning fullback could be turned down by US immigration on arrival for the prime encounter against Sydney Roosters once the NRL announced the historical fixture.

The club took no chances, hiring their own visa expert, who was by the Murri man's side to seek permission from the Sydney-based consulate general for border entry.

"The people upstairs were lovely and really helpful, so I am pretty hopeful it all goes well," Walsh told the waiting media outside the consulate general building.

"I am just very excited and looking forward to getting over to Vegas."

Walsh did not get an answer immediately and is also not expected to hear back for an unspecified time ahead of a desire to play in the newly built Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

That desire only grew after the online world caught a glimpse of the 21-year-old catching a spiral pass on the run from Tom Brady among seated onlookers inside a pack hall at quarterback great's Brisbane function.

Walsh walked away not only with a signed ball but firm in the knowledge that Brady's NFL agent was telling everyone in the room that he would be worth $25-30 million a year playing on the sport's biggest stage every week.

"It was cool to meet Tom Brady and experience that," Walsh said.

"Hopefully I can get over there and show some of our (rugby league) skills and impress them more.

"I hope Tom's going (to the game) because I got his number now and I will give him a call that I have a seat for him."

Walsh is one of 12 players across the four clubs including teammate Tristian Sailor, who were reportedly summoned to front the US office for formal interviews to decide whether or not they are granted the necessary visas to kick-off the NRL season.

It could be a logistical nightmare for the league's administration after putting in much of the season's promotion into the double-header that also features Manly and South Sydney where Mitchell could also be in doubt ahead of his own interview on Thursday.

Though for Mitchell, the notorious 'Sin City' no longer has the appeal for a country lad from Taree it once did, outside of turning up to contribute to a Rabbitohs opening-season win.

Last year's unproven court case against the Souths fullback, where a police officer during a trial admitted to giving false evidence after Mitchell was caught in a nightclub scuffle with Wiradjuri cousin and new teammate, Jack Wighton, was enough to turn him away.

Not just away from shady spots down dark corridors, but from the game altogether.

"I think just mentally, it was definitely draining," Mitchell told Nine media.

"It was getting to a point where rugby league just wasn't enjoyable."

The Birrbay and Wiradjuri man was ready to walk away before the end of last year, his courtroom drama only compounded further with an injury-plagued season that had Souths falling off the pace of contenders and missing the NRL finals.

Mitchell, still just 27, seriously wanted a break from it all and weighed up his future beyond that after what he declared the most challenging NRL season of his career.

"It was a conversation I had with my family to see where I was at in life," he said.

"Potentially, I could've (left the game), I guess.

"I decided to keep doing it, though it wasn't fun anymore, but it is what it is.

"I couldn't go to this game (in Las Vegas) knowing that I didn't go out on my own terms."

But the adversity that stretches back to booing that Mitchell faced the season before, climaxing against his former side, has only made the one-time Roosters rookie feeling more resilient than ever.

So much so that he is determined to prove his worth in the No.1 jersey.

"I think it is time to get the teeth into it and just have a crack," Mitchell said.

"I just want to do my bit for the team, play at fullback and show everyone that I'm the best fullback in the game."


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