Mitch Cornish has only 19 NRL games to his name, but he will bring the teachings from seven premierships, countless rep footy honours and over 800 first-grade appearances to the Sydney Roosters.
Since his Telstra Premiership debut with the Canberra Raiders in 2014, the two-time Junior Kangaroo has counted champion halves Ricky Stuart and Andrew Johns among his mentors and is set to add Cooper Cronk to the list when they form a scrum-base pairing against the Wests Tigers this Saturday.
First-choice five-eighth Luke Keary is facing an uphill battle to be fit for Saturday’s season opener against Wests Tigers, though he will be given every opportunity to return from a broken jaw and resulting concussion symptoms, as revealed last week by NRL.com.
Cornish has been named in the No.6 jersey by Trent Robinson for the clash at ANZ Stadium having partnered Cronk throughout the trials, devouring every playmaking morsel the 34-year-old has offered in the process.
“Everything [Cronk] does, you’re asking him about,” Cornish told NRL.com.
“He’s one of the most experienced players in the comp and luckily enough he’s in my position. It’s like having another coach at training right by your side.
“Everything he does or says to you, you take in, his defence in particular.
“If you look at the stats he’s one of the best halves defensively. So, some of the principles he has with that, that’s one area I’ve really watched closely and tried to copy as a half.”
Back-to-back selections for the Junior Roos and in the Holden Cup teams of the year in 2012-13 had Cornish tipped to make a big splash in first grade, but unlike contemporaries including Jake Trbojevic, Corey Oates and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, the 25-year-old is yet to truly kick on.
His potential has long been unquestioned though, with Stuart taking a keen interest in the young half many saw as the successor to his old lime green No.7 jersey.
Johns’s involvement with Cornish, first as Raiders halves coach and now in a similar role at the Roosters, has also led to plenty of praise from the eighth Immortal.
It was Johns who recommended Cornish to the Tricolours in 2016 when he came off contract at the Parramatta Eels, an endorsement that still humbles the Goulburn junior.
“That was massive, I didn’t know until I’d signed that Joey had said that,” Cornish said.
“I’ve worked with him for a few years, he was a specialist coach with Canberra when I was starting out, he used to come down to do halves work when I was about 18.
“And over my career I’ve had the chance to keep working with him around the places I’ve been.
“As a half he’s the first person you look at wanting to play like. I obviously took a lot of notice of Joey as I was growing up and it’s been fantastic to work with him.”
Signed on consecutive one-year deals by the club, he is under no illusions about where he sits in the Roosters’ pecking order.
When Keary fully recovers from the facial fracture suffered in pre-season training, Cornish will revert once more to second-string status.
“It’s a funny story, my younger brother (and fellow playmaker) Tyler was here before and I’d only signed a one-year deal at Parra and spent most of the year injured,” Cornish said.
“I looked around as you do at the end of a contract and as soon as the Roosters were interested I spoke to my brother.
“And even though he was leaving he said ‘you won’t regret going to the Roosters’. We both followed the Roosters as kids so it was always a dream of mine to play here and I haven’t looked back since.”