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'I needed to grow up': Inside Barnett's Origin rise

The birth of his first son, Nate, helped convince Mitch Barnett that he needed to move to New Zealand to fulfil his dream of playing State of Origin for NSW.

The birth of his second son, Zane, helped convince Blues coach Michael Maguire that the Warriors forward was ready for the step up in next Wednesday night’s series decider at Suncorp Stadium.

Barnett will make his Origin debut in place of Sea Eagles second-rower Haumole Olakau’atu after being a member of the extended NSW squad for the opening two matches of the series, including 18th man in Game Two at the MCG.

Mitchell Barnett will finally make his NSW debut at Suncorp Stadium after being 18th man in Origin II.
Mitchell Barnett will finally make his NSW debut at Suncorp Stadium after being 18th man in Origin II. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

His selection is recognition of Barnett’s form for the Warriors this season and the sacrifices he has made to earn a Blues jersey, including missing Zane’s birth while he stayed in camp with the NSW team for a training session in the lead up to Origin I.

“We knew he was coming at that time, so I just had to train and get my job done here first, then go back to New Zealand,” Barnett said.

“I knew a couple of days before that I was going to miss the birth, but I had an obligation to the boys here. I was able to help my wife and son get out of hospital and get home and get settled.”

Maguire, who asked Barnett to stay in Sydney after last Saturday’s 13-12 extra time loss to the Bulldogs in which he ran 226 metres with the ball and made 56 tackles, said his sacrifice hadn’t gone unnoticed.  

"To be honest his selfless way of being around camp – all the boys will really enjoy having him in the team,” Maguire said.

“In our first game he literally flew over for the birth of his child and then flew back again, so the commitment was there of what the jersey means to him.”

Yet it was only two years ago that Barnett made the hardest decision of his career to move from Newcastle to Auckland in a bid to fulfil his potential.

At the time, Barnett was serving a six-match suspension for elbowing Panthers forward Chris Smith and after becoming a father a few months earlier he realised that something had to change.

“Moving to New Zealand was pretty scary to be fair, especially when my eldest was only 12 months old, but I needed to get out of my comfort zone to get to where I am today,” Barnett said.

“I needed to grow up and I felt like I had more to offer in the game of rugby league instead of trying to blame anyone else for why I wasn’t getting what I thought was good enough to get, so I just looked inwards and did everything I could to get here.”

Under Andrew Webster at the Warriors, Barnett has become a leader, as well as one of the NRL’s most consistent forwards.

He captained the team against the Bulldogs in the absence of Tohu Harris.

Barnett: Honour and privilege

“I have changed a lot as a player and as a person. Moving to New Zealand and having a purpose, with my two boys and my wife, has been the biggest reason for that,” Barnett said.

“The boys seem to like me as a leader over there, and Webby trusts me and believes in me.

“I lead by my actions, I think I articulate what I am trying to say well to the boys and they are following me. It’s the group more than me, we have just hot a good group.

“I am taking opportunities that have come my way and it has fallen into place for me.

“It means a lot to get this jersey. I believe I am more than ready to go out there and play well, and I’m just looking forward to getting out there and getting a win for NSW.”

Acknowledgement of Country

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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