First grade dream realised for Mitch Achurch

IT could easily have been the end of another week working alongside his dad at the family's neon sign business.

Instead, Mitch Achurch (pictured) spent last Friday night making his first grade debut in the white OAK jersey and fulfilling the footy dream he'd once completely given up on.

The 23-year-old forward hung up his boots and turned his back on rugby league after injuries demonised his career ambitions before a change of heart gave new hope to the life he'd deemed impossible.

"I played under-20s with the Wests Tigers in the back row and earned myself a two year contract in the North Queensland Cowboys top squad but both years I had a shoulder reconstruction on the same shoulder and didn't play many games," Achurch said.

"I came back and started thinking nothing would happen for me. I thought my body wasn't up to the rigors of footy and I'd just go back to work for my dad, so I gave it up for a bit.

"But I had a few mates playing footy and when they started the pre-season, I missed it and got jealous so I joined up with Balmain and they pushed me out to [NSW Cup club] Western Suburbs.

"I got the opportunity to be captain and after a good year out there, Penrith approached and asked me to sign for one year, so I thought why not give it one more shot and I'm glad I did."

Achurch, who grew up in Winston Hills, said it was "surreal" to finally reach the goal he'd been striving towards since he was six-years-old and admitted to being startled when coach Ivan Cleary told him the No.19 jumper would be worn on his shoulders against the Eels.

"It was after the Souths game, we put in a pretty poor performance and I thought there might have been a chance," Achurch said.

"He came down into the gym when we were doing weights one day and said mate, what would you say if I told you you were doing first grade.

"I had nothing to say — I just thanked him and walked around in shock for a while."

Competing among the "more professional, faster and harder" style of rugby league has Achurch determined to turn his first stint into a regular gig and perhaps even a contract extension.

"Now I've got a taste of it, I don't want to let it go," he said.

"I'll be playing every week trying to impress whoever it is that gives out the contracts for Panthers.

"I have a big soft spot for the club now they've given me a shot."

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