Barnett's contract bungle behind him
A contract dispute to start any young player's pre-season is never ideal but they were the cards Raiders rookie Mitchell Barnett was dealt, just three months after his NRL debut.
Sat up at home on New South Wales' mid-North coast nursing a thumb injury it was discovered Barnett's contract was never lodged to the NRL by the Raiders, according to Fairfax reports in November last year.
With the club adamant there was a written agreement between the two parties; Barnett's reported shift to another NRL club was shut down swiftly with the agreement discovered by the Raiders.
Speaking frankly with NRL.com, the 21-year-old Barnett said the episode was perhaps dealt with "inexperience" on his behalf, but was one that he and the club had moved on from.
"I'm happy at the club. That was never sort of the issue at all. Since coming back I've sat down with Ricky and the rest of the club, it's been all put behind us and there hasn't been any awkwardness between us," Barnett said.
"This is a club that's giving me my start and it was a situation that showed a bit of my inexperience I think, but I have put it behind me and looking to move onwards and upwards.
"We have all moved on and I can't wait to start the season now.
"I've come back this pre-season and worked a lot harder because this year I want to play as many games as I can in first grade and hopefully earn an opportunity."
The only problem remaining for Barnett is his lingering thumb complaint, an old injury which caught up with him in the off-season when it dislodged from the socket and failed to pop back in while he was throwing a football.
A late withdrawal from the Raiders' Auckland Nines squad, the reigning NSW Cup Player of the Year is still hopeful of some trial time to show he can build on his two NRL games to date.
With internationals Sia Soliola, Josh Papalii and Elliot Whitehead alongside veteran lock Shaun Fensom the likely contenders ahead of the Wingham Tigers junior, Barnett has focused on enhancing his versatility in the forwards.
"It was good to get that taste of first grade, so hopefully I can see myself playing a little bit in the middle this year too so that I can slot anywhere in the team," Barnett said.
"I just need to put on a bit weight and play some good footy. I'd do anything for a spot in the 17 so wherever the team needs me I'll try and push to play."