The bond Hartigan and Mitchell forged on Leichhardt Oval in those moments endures to this day. Hartigan is no longer at the Roosters after taking up the role of head of football at the Tigers in July. Mitchell is also likely to be departing Bondi Junction after the club pulled its offer of a contract extension, worth $1.6 million over two years, from the table earlier this month.
The Tigers have $1.7 million to spend on talent in 2020 alone and have a shortlist of targets that include Dragons pair Luciano Leilua and Zac Lomax. But at the very top of the list is Mitchell.
So when Tigers chief executive Justin Pascoe and coach Michael Maguire made the 310km journey from Concord Oval to Taree during the week, Hartigan travelled up with them as the trump card.
The trip would have been made a few days earlier but for the fact that Hartigan and Pascoe had only just returned from a US study tour and the bushfires decimating the mid-north coast of NSW made Taree almost inaccessible at the start of the week. The Tigers contingent wanted to personally pitch their vision for the club to Mitchell and his manager in a bid to secure the biggest scalp in the joint-venture outfit’s history.
Mitchell would become the long-term fullback replacement they have been looking for since the departure of James Tedesco, the man blocking 22-year-old’s path to the No.1 jersey at the Roosters.
If Mitchell makes the switch, Hartigan won’t be the only familiar face at the Tigers. While representing the Blues at under-20s level in 2015, he played alongside current Tigers Robert Jennings, Alex Twal, Jacob Liddle and Oliver Clarke. That side gelled well, belting the Maroons 32-4.
Mitchell is also mates with potential Tigers teammates Luke Garner and Paul Momirovski from their days at the Roosters and Wyong. Then there’s the new Tigers chairman, Lee Hagipantelis, who has a relationship with Mitchell through his law firm’s sponsorship of the Blues.
“He is the sort of player who could make a mark at Wests Tigers and create a legacy,” Hagipantelis told the Herald during the week.
“If he put on a black, white and gold jersey, I would be standing on the sideline cheering him on when he crosses the white line for the first time.”
Mitchell, however, is closest to Hartigan. Significantly, Hartigan maintains a good relationship with Roosters supremo Nick Politis, who will have a significant say on if and where Mitchell goes if released from the final year of his contract.
The Tigers and team Mitchell are crunching the numbers in a bid to finalise a deal. Given the club needs a star signing and Mitchell needs a new home, these things often have a way of working themselves out. Mitchell could expect a pay rise if he switches sides. Perhaps the biggest challenge is for Hartigan to convince Mitchell that they can again achieve premiership success together.
Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.