NRL | Newcastle Knights' influential missing link ready to take on Eagles

Mitch Barnett had no inkling his name would feature when Newcastle’s senior leadership group was announced a few weeks back.

Not when a host of seasoned new recruits from rival clubs joined the Knights this season.

But he had clearly under-estimated his own influence and importance within the playing group. 

It’s why coach Nathan Brown had already pencilled Barnett into his 17-man squad for the season-opener against Manly next Friday night, without a game under his belt following off-season shoulder surgery, even before the team’s final trial against Parramatta.

The way the Knights lost to the Eels only further emphasised why Brown wants him on the field against the Eagles.  

The Knights could have done with his aggressive, in-your-face, no back down attitude.

“Barney’s doesn’t hold back on the field and off it, would not be afraid to haul someone into line,”one team-mate said.

“There is plenty of respect there.”

For his part, Barnett admits he has captaincy ambitions but “they are a long way down the track”.

“That’s definitely a goal of mine. I’d love to have that sort of honour or even be someone who is considered for a role like that,”he said.

“I’ve got a long way to go if it is to ever happen but it’s something I’d love to do.

“I was a bit shocked to even make the leadership group to be honest. I didn’t sort of realise I had that sort of influence on the players but I’m treasuring every moment.

“I see it as a massive step forward in my career for me.”

While Brown told the Newcastle Herald last week Barnett would play against Manly, he is yet to relay that to his player.                     

But Barnett is confident he will be ready “if I get the nod from Browny”.

“My fitness is really good. The good thing about the shoulder is I could keep running,”he said.

“I’m actually fitter now than I was this time last year because of how much running I’ve done.

“Hopefully, it shows when the season kicks off but it’s still going to be a bit of a tough slog when I get back out there.

“I’ve got no issues at all with my shoulder and having the confidence in it. I was probably touch and go for the trials but just with how long the season is, there was no real point rushing it back. But I’m back to full strength and ready to roll.”

Barnett, last season’s Player of the Year, said he will be out to repay the faith in him if he plays in round one.

“My goals are the same as last year. I want to be one of the best players in the team but also want to be better than I was last year,”he said.

Winner: Mitch Barnett [with MC Yvonne Sampson] after winning the Knights Player of the Year award at the club's presentation night last season. He will be a key figure against Manly next Friday night. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Winner: Mitch Barnett [with MC Yvonne Sampson] after winning the Knights Player of the Year award at the club's presentation night last season. He will be a key figure against Manly next Friday night. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers