Unlikely skipper Mitch Barnett’s pride in leading Warriors

Publish Date
Thursday, 23 May 2024, 10:33AM

By Alex Powell

When Mitch Barnett took the field for the Warriors against the Penrith Panthers in Brisbane last weekend, he’d have been as surprised as anyone to be leading the side at the end of 80 minutes.

As regular captain Tohu Harris was withdrawn before kickoff, and replacement skipper Wayde Egan pulled after failing a concussion test in the first half, it was Barnett who led the side as they snapped a five-game winless run.

And with those senior leaders still missing for Sunday’s encounter against the Dolphins, Barnett has been backed to continue as captain for the week, as Andrew Webster’s side look to reignite their season.

On the surface, Barnett could be seen as a surprise choice to lead the Warriors. After victory over Penrith, Webster even had to instruct Australian media to ask Barnett a question.

Addin Fonua-Blake and Dylan Walker had both captained the side in previous years, but Barnett was the one the team turned to at their lowest against Penrith.

Since arriving from the Newcastle Knights at the start of last season, the 30-year-old has become a key part of the Warriors forward pack under Andrew Webster.

Of the 38 games Webster has coached the Warriors in – so far – Barnett has played in 26 of them, taking into account a tricky neck injury at the start of last season.

But even if the tag of captain sits uneasily on his shoulders, Barnett makes it clear he’ll continue to aim for the same levels that’s gotten him to this point.

“I’m not used to that one,” he professed. “But it’s an honour, a privilege.

“It doesn’t change too much for me, I just need to play my game and do my job for the team.”

Barnett’s displays haven’t gone unnoticed either.

Fox Sports presenter and former New South Wales utility Braith Anasta has the Warriors man as a surprise pick for Michael Maguire’s first New South Wales side of 2024, in what would be a fitting reward for a player yet to taste representative football.

Maguire himself has also sounded Barnett out, even if the topic of selection wasn’t covered during their meeting.

And even though performing for the Warriors will be his main priority, the thought of representing his state has crossed Barnett’s mind this season.

“I don’t really think too much about it [but] I’d be lying if I said I don’t think about it at all.

“I’ve had some discussions, but my job is to put my best forward for the team first.

“Madge knows what he’s doing. If I keep playing well, doing everything I can control, hopefully everything takes care of itself.

“I’ve had no indication, but nor would I expect one. He’ll pick his team, and whoever he picks will be the right side for game one.”

Without question, last weekend’s victory will go down in Warriors folklore.

Missing 10 players to injury, and with a number of in-game setbacks, a makeshift side downed the three-time reigning premiers, and came from behind to do so.

With four players returning from the casualty ward for Sunday, most of that team remains intact for the weekend.

And for Barnett, it can be the moment to kickstart the Warriors’ bid for a return to the NRL finals later this year.

“It was a great outfit we we’re playing on the weekend. Both teams had some injuries, we had a lot of adversity in the game.

“People had questioned us over the last four or five weeks - and rightly so.

“I thought the energy the younger boys brought was just what we needed. [We had] some really tough performances out there.

“Now we’ve got to move on, and prepare this week for the Dolphins, and get up for it.”

This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission

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