IN hindsight, the real surprise was not that Mitch Barnett finished as the Knights’ player of the year in 2017. It was that he finished the season at all.
Barnett admitted this week he was “shocked” when his name was announced at Newcastle’s presentation night last September as the recipient of the Danny Buderus Medal, awarded to the club’s standout performer.
But it was a fitting reward and a remind of what can be achieved through sheer willpower.
The rugged lock played most of the year with a dislocated shoulder that required an off-season reconstruction, yet still managed to make 22 appearances and rack up 763 tackles, second only to hooker Danny Levi.
“I sub-luxed it early in the year, and then later in the season when I copped an impact on it, it was making my arm go dead and I couldn’t move it for a while,” he told the Newcastle Herald.
“It felt really unstable. Every time I took a hit it felt like a lot of things were moving around on the inside.
“But I was lucky enough to get through the year. It kind of came good, then I sub-luxed it again in the last game.
“I got some scans the next week after that and booked in for a reconstruction.”
Teammate Daniel Saifiti and new signing Tautau Moga underwent similar surgery, and all three are aiming to be fit for Newcastle’s round-one clash with Manly, although they are yet to resume full-contact training.
“We’re restricted in what we can and can’t do, but we’ve got a meeting [with the specialist] soon and hopefully we can get a clearance to progress into a bit more training,” Barnett said.
“The doc says it’s all gone to plan and is coming along nicely.
“It’s stable now and by the time I’m back playing, it’s going to be stronger than what it was [originally].
“I’ll be fully confident when I come back.”
Looking back on 2017, his first full season in the NRL, the 23-year-old was satisfied with what he achieved but remains focused on improving.
“Last year was a platform for me,” he said. “I just want to keep getting better and better each season. The way I do that is learning, watching the video, and trying to action that out on the field.”
From a team perspective, he says the three-time wooden spooners were intent on being involved in the play-offs for the first time since 2013.
“That’s the goal, top eight,’’ he said. “Every club is aiming for the same thing.
“Last year it obviously didn’t go to plan, but the players we’ve brought in give us a bit more stock and experience.
“We’re really confident but we’ve still got a little way to go, and how hard we work will determine where we finish at the end of the year.”
He described winning the Buderus Medal as “a massive honour” and one of the highlights of his 33-game NRL career, which kicked off with Canberra in 2015.
“I was shocked, to be honest,” he said. “Especially because Danny Buderus is an idol of mine. He’s a great player, great bloke.
“It’s given me a lot of confidence. Obviously I’m still getting over the surgery but it makes me feel like I can take on a bit of a leadership role and have a bit more of a voice.”
“Last year was a platform for me. I just want to keep getting better and better each season.”MITCH BARNETT