Boy wonder to replace the Don
MITCH LOLLBACK is enjoying a stunning start to the NRRRL season with the table-topping Ghosts, earning rave reviews from his teammates and coach.
A wonderfully balanced runner – some say in the same mould as his father Eric – he slides across the turf at a scorching pace.
The 19-year-old Ghosts' fullback has been given a crack at the big time after starring for the Ghosts premiership winning under-18 side last season.
And like his predecessor Anthony Don, Lollback can certainly sniff out a try.
Currently studying for a degree in mental health nursing at Southern Cross University, Lollback says Sunday's local derby against the Grafton Rhinos is one game he is eager to play.
“I know my dad has talked a little bit about playing in the local derby,” Lollback says.
“There is nothing better then playing against the Rhinos ... and winning.”
Lollback admits he has big shoes to fill with the departure of try-scoring wizard and friend Don, but says he will stick to his own brand of football.
“I learnt a little bit off Anthony last season,” he says.
“But if anyone expects me to do anything like he's achieved last year, well they're kidding themselves.”
Like Don, the rookie fullback pops up on the field when you least expect it, trailing his forwards up the middle third of the field before exploding onto a pass and out-sprinting the defence.
But if there's one thing the talented back has learnt, it's the transition from juniors to the top grade which has surprised him the most.
“They tackle a lot harder in first grade, but in saying that I'm loving it,” Lollback adds.
“It's heaps more structured and Ryan (Farrell) and Dan Roberts keep telling me what to do, which has made it a lot easier.”
Lollback says being picked in the fullback role for the start of the season was unexpected and said his coach, Col Speed, has been instrumental in improving his overall game.
“It was a surprise to be thrown into the deep end, I didn't expect it,” Lollback said.
“Col has certainly helped me out a lot with my game, and has been drilling into me the finer points of the game.”
The Lollback name is synonymous with the Grafton Ghosts. Mitch's grandfather Max was an outstanding footballer, as was his father Eric.
And brother Daniel has been an important cog in the Ghosts' backline for many seasons.
But if there's one thing on Mitch's wish list, it's playing alongside his older brother.
“It will be good when Dan gets his spot back,” he says.
“I haven't played alongside Dan in first grade, so hopefully we'll get a chance to play together.”
For most coaches finding a suitable replacement for Don would be a difficult task. But ask Speed, and Lollback is the perfect solution.
“He was definitely my first choice at fullback after we lost Anthony,” Speed says.
“I had a talk to Mitch before the season and pointed that out. He's a natural athlete and a natural sportsman.
“He's still learning, but has adapted well. He's keen and enthusiastic.
“And size is not a worry. They breed the Lollbacks pretty tough, and they always give 100%.”