Maturing Barnett confident of more upsets

Knights lock Mitch Barnett says back-to-back wins have the side well equipped for the final month of football against sides fighting for top-eight positions.

After an impressive win over the Warriors Newcastle face the in-form Parramatta Eels on Friday night before taking on Melbourne, Canberra and defending premiers Cronulla to finish the regular season. 

A natural ball-playing forward, Barnett admitted in recent weeks he's toned down his tendency to look for an offload on every occasion after a word from coach Nathan Brown.

The 23-year-old has 24 offloads in 2017 – the best of any Knight this season – but is continuing to fine-tune that side of his game.

"Sometimes I look to push the pass when it's not on," Barnett told NRL.com.

"Browny has been into me about earning the right to pass first. I do enjoy going to the line and creating that second phase for the other boys to work off but just have to choose the right time to do it.

"There were a couple of times on the weekend where I could've passed but because of the scoreboard I just tucked it under my belt.

"That's the type of development I feel my game has needed."

‌There is no doubting Barnett's running game with the ball. 

Two tries inside nine minutes against the Warriors doubled his career try-scoring tally to four after 29 games. 

"I've been secretly nervous of late that I'll be up for the nudie run as it was getting a bit closer to the end of the year but now I'm off the duck I'm stoked," he laughed. 

"They were [a case of being in the] right place at the right time. I had a feeling I might have got the ball down on the second try and thought it might have landed on his hand so I was just as surprised [when the try was awarded]."

Newcastle's back-to-back wins have been built on their improved defence in 2017. Nathan Brown's side had conceded 670 points after 22 rounds last year but have reduced that number to 522 this season.

Their two wins in the past fortnight came on the back of leading again at half-time – an area the side has struggled to close out games in the second halves. 

"We're starting to learn from mistakes we've made previously a lot more frequently and even though we're still scrappy with the ball or make a few errors, we're defending for each other and working a bit extra," Barnett said.

"It's good to get those two wins on the trot and not so far apart. I thought [the Warriors win] was a stronger performance than the Dragons game and something we can work on until the season finishes."

 


Barnett is under no illusions the side is facing a tough run to see out the season but is quietly confident of causing an upset or two.

Newcastle have not won on the road in 23 games but have a healthy recent record against Parramatta.

The Knights have won three of their last five against the Eels at Parramatta Stadium, while the only clash at Homebush between the two outfits was a memorable one for the Novocastrians – the 2001 Grand Final.

"They've won six on the trot and are playing well," Barnett said of Parramatta.

"Mitch Moses has added another leg to their attack. We've got a short turnaround and as long as we focus on a good performance the result can take off from there."

While Moses is the key for Parramatta's attack, Barnett singled out his own five-eighth Brock Lamb as the player he's been most impressed with after a whirlwind season.

"It's a testament to his character, he cops a lot of slack and some of it he says he deserves but a lot of it… he's so young and hasn't learnt off anyone so has had to do it the hard way," he said.

"To see him bounce back the last few weeks it's good to see and he's got a big future."