Both hail from the Manning region, both found their way to the Newcastle Knights and both were on stage at Thursday night’s presentation.
But it was retired club legend Danny Buderus handing over the club’s best and fairest medal named in his honour to emerging talent Mitch Barnett.
The 23-year-old lock was stunned to hear his name read out, a little starstruck standing next to Buderus and by the end of the event simply “overwhelmed” after being announced Knights’ player of the year for 2017.
“It’s the greatest award I’ve ever received so far in my career and could ever achieve,” Barnett said.
“It’s just so special and so close to my heart to receive an award from Danny Buderus who is from my area and who is someone I looked up to my whole childhood. It still hasn’t sunk in but it’s just very humbling and very exciting to have this medal.”
Barnett, who will undergo shoulder surgery in the off-season after his first full year of first grade, had stiff competition for the prestigious prize from prop Daniel Saifiti, fullback Nathan Ross and outgoing representative star Dane Gagai.
However, Saifiti didn’t walk away from Wests City empty handed after being voted players’ player in front of a 400-strong crowd.
“I wasn’t really expecting it but if I had to choose one award it would be this one,” Saifiti said. “To know I have the respect of my peers and they voted for it means the world to me.”
Saifiti will have a shoulder reconstruction on Wednesday that puts him in doubt for round one next year.
A new award was handed out for moment of the year with Ross, who had the first of three surgeries this week, getting the gong for his try-saving tackle on Dragons winger Justin Nightingale in the same corner he scored his much replayed aerobatic four-pointer against the same opponents last season.
Meanwhile, Knights chief executive officer Matt Gidley confirmed on Friday the club were in negotiations with New Zealand Warriors and Queensland Origin veteran Jacob Lillyman.
“We are in discussions with a range of players at the moment, including Jacob Lillyman,” Gidley said.
“Nothing confirmed at this stage though.”
It was also announced on Friday that Newcastle target Gerard Beale will move from Cronulla to New Zealand next season.
- The Knights have finished fourth on the NRL standings for average crowd figures in 2017. Newcastle (15,619) jumped the Roosters (15,387) after Sunday’s final round with only Brisbane (31,394), Melbourne (18,375) and North Queensland (16,528) ahead of them.