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Fonua-Blake: Mitch is reaping the rewards

The One New Zealand Warriors have not been represented in State of Origin since Jacob Lillyman played for Queensland in 2017 but forward Mitchell Barnett could be the man to change that.

Two years after making the move across the Tasman from the Newcastle Knights, Barnett has started his 10th NRL season in, arguably, career-best form, catapulting his name into the New South Wales Origin conversation.

The Wingham product has played most of his career as an edge backrower or loose forward but, since joining the Warriors, has made the switch to front row and formed an intimidating combination with 2023 Dally M Prop of the Year Addin Fonua-Blake.

Leading from the front, Fonua-Blake and Barnett rank 11th and 14th for most contact metres after six rounds, helping the Warriors to be first among all teams in total run metres.

Defensively, however, is where Barnett’s value has truly shone, adding a new level of starch to a middle forward group that already includes captain Tohu Harris and fellow possible Origin bolter Wayde Egan.

On the eve of Barnett’s 150th NRL match, Fonua-Blake singled out his front row partner for recognition.

“I feel like Mitch has probably been one of the better defenders in the (competition) to start the year and it’s a credit to him, all the reps at training, he's reaping the rewards,” said the Tongan international.

Barnett, who started his NRL career with Canberra in 2015, was one of the best on the field in the team’s golden point draw with the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles last Saturday night; he registered 50 tackles, one of which was a massive effort to drive centre Tolutau Koula back past his own goal line and force a drop out.

Speaking on Fox League following the match, Queensland legend Corey Parker was full of praise for Barnett.

“That’s a huge play… we talk about players in the conversation for Origin, well he’s in mine. He’s been outstanding,” he said.

Firmly established as a crowd favourite with the Warriors faithful, Barnett heads into Friday night’s game against the St George Illawara Dragons has produced better numbers than last season averaging 31 tackles and 152 metres from 16 runs per game so far this season.

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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