Newcastle Knights forward Mitch Barnett will return to familiar surroundings in more ways than one in Canberra this weekend.
The 22-year-old shifts from second-row back to his junior position of lock when he lines up against his former Raiders team in Saturday’s pre-season trial.
And after adding five kilograms to his frame over summer the Wingham product has set himself the challenge of making the No.13 jersey his own for 2017.
“I’ve been doing a fair bit of work there [at lock] with Browny [coach Nathan Brown] in pre-season, but it’s a familiar position for me,” Barnett said.
“I played there through juniors and 20s so I’m looking forward to getting out there this weekend and playing that role. It means I have my hands on the ball a bit more and get through a bit more defence.
“I’m excited for the challenge ahead and hopefully I can lock down that 13 spot.”
The added incentive for Barnett to start on the front foot centres around contract negotiations for 2018 and beyond after joining the Knights midway through last season on a deal that runs until the end of this year.
“I haven’t really discussed anything yet, but I think my manager is talking with the Knights now,” he said.
“The thing is I’m happy here and the club has treated me really well. My home town Wingham is only a couple of hours up the highway, so I get to see my parents and the rest of my family.
“It [Newcastle] is somewhere I’d like to stay long term, whether the club want me to or not is up to them, but it’s somewhere I can see myself settling down.”
Collectively the 2015 NSW Cup player of the year said the Knights were shaping up strongly, with experienced recruits helping bolster the relatively young existing forward pack.
“We’ve got a pretty good balance this year,” Barnett said. “I’m excited to see what we can all do out there to be honest and hopefully we can have a really good season.”
In the backline 28-year-old winger Nathan Ross, who will be marking last season’s top NRL try scorer Jordan Rapana at Queanbeyan’s Seiffert Oval, has given himself written motivation on his wrist strapping to keep going.
“I’ve never actually played round one in the NRL and I want to do that,” Ross said.
KNIGHTS: 1 Dylan Phythian, 2 Ken Sio, 3 Dane Gagai, 4 Peter Mata’utia, 5 Nathan Ross, 6 Brock Lamb, 7 Trent Hodkinson, 8 Daniel Saifiti, 9 Danny Levi, 10 Josh Starling, 11 Sione Mata’utia, 12 Jamie Buhrer, 13 Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14 Luke Yates, 15 Jack Stockwell, 16 Sam Stone, 17 Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 18 Brendan Elliot, 19 Will Pearsall, 22 Josh King, 23 Jacob Saifiti, 24 Chanel Mata’utia.
Kick-off is 6.30pm.
The Knights lower grades are also in action down south this weekend.
Newcastle play Raiders feeder club Mounties at Cabramatta on Sunday (6pm), with first grade regulars Mickey Paea and Sam Mataora in the squad, while the under 20s meet their Canberra counterparts at the same venue (4pm) with Jack Johns, son of former premiership winner Matt, named at five-eighth.
NSW CUP: 1 Nick Meaney, 2 Kainoa Gudgeon, 3 Cory Denniss, 4 Tom Hughes, 5 Jacob Gagan, 6 Jake McNamara, 7 Jack Cogger, 8 Sam Mataora, 9 Joey Morris, 10 Mickey Paea, 11 Pat Mata’utia, 12 Braden Robson, 13 Jamayne Taunoa-Brown, 14 David Bhana, 15 Jake Finn, 16 Tyrone Amey, 17 Faitotoa Faitotoa, 18 Sam Bernstrom, 19 Jarrod Flanagan.
UNDER 20s: 1 Matt Cooper, 2 Mitch Andrews, 3 Heath Gibbs, 4 Brayden Musgrove, 5 Lachlan Farr, 6 Jack Johns, 7 Hayden Loughrey, 8 Jayden Butterfield, 9 Tom Starling, 10 Viko Puliuvea, 11 Sam McIntyre, 12 Henry Penn, 13 Zac Hosking, 14 Brendan O’Hagan, 15 Nash Birch, 16 Eddy Tuilotolava, 17 Cameron King, 18 Tavita Fesolai, 19 Dylan Clark, 20 Keanu Dawson, 21 Pasami Saulo, 22 Kurtis Dark, 23 Dean Kouka-Smith, 24 Will Davies.