TWELVE months ago Mitch Smith was arguably the best front rower in the Group 3 rugby league competition.
And now the sky is the limit for the Port Macquarie Sharks junior after he signed a two-year contract with the Canberra Raiders.
He couldn’t have picked a better club to go to with the Green Machine on a roll and being touted as a first grade premiership contender in 2017.
But with any change of location comes the stress of looking for work and making new friends.
It was no different for Smith.
“It was a difficult decision to make because I had to juggle my apprenticeship as a diesel mechanic as well,” Smith said.
“I didn’t want to not do that and have to quit it, but the Raiders said they’d find me a job and they did.”
The front-rower admitted that while a career in the National Rugby League is a goal most young players aspire to, when the time came he had to weigh everything up.
“It took a lot of thinking because I had to move away from everything that I had back home, friends, family, work,” he said.
‘I was keen a little bit nervous about it all as well, but I wanted to give it a crack.
“I’m having to do everything for myself.
“The main difference from being in Port is being on my own a lot of the time and not having family and friends here.
“You could look at it as being both good or bad, but it’s bad because you miss everyone, but in a way it’s good because you become independent and how to survive on your own two feet.”
If Smith continues to work hard, his meteoric rise could land him a position in the first grade squad within three to five years.
Smith will spend the first of his two-year contract in the Holden Cup setup before the possibility of being selected in Raiders feeder-club side Mounties.
Regular first graders have previously been picked from that team.
“It has taken me a little bit by surprise how quickly it’s all happened,” Smith said.
“When I started doing my pre-season training (with Port Sharks) last year I started thinking one more year and seeing how far I could go.
“My first goal was first grade and all of a sudden the season was over and I had my contract.”
Smith’s former coach Wayne Grant was not surprised to see his former forward pursue his NRL dream.
“The under-20s are a long way from the NRL, but it’s all experience and Mitch is a good kid with the right attitude,” he said.
“He’s worked on a lot of things and has done all the additional training he needed to.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks have locked in a pre-season trial with Maitland in Port Macquarie on February 25.