Mitchell Barnett did the crime, did the time, and now wants to make it up to his Knights team-mates.
Barnett will return for Newcastle against the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday, having served a three-game suspension for a grade-three dangerous-contact charge arising from his “crusher” tackle on Melbourne’s Jahrome Hughes at AAMI Park on June 15.
The 25-year-old utility forward missed Newcastle’s past three games against the Broncos, Warriors and Bulldogs, and the representative-round bye effectively added another week to his ban.
Barnett, who has been named to start in the back row against the premiers, was roundly criticised but he apologised to Hughes at half-time and has a clear conscience.
“Obviously I was trying to be aggressive with the tackle, and when you replay it and slow it down and all that, it looks very bad, which it was a bad tackle,” Barnett said on Monday.
“I’ve always said that and never intentionally did it. Everyone threw their piece in there, and that’s what happens in this game nowadays, and I’ve taken it on the chin.
“But thankfully no-one was hurt in it and I’ve moved on and the club has now too.”
Though his one-month break was not what he wanted, Barnett was able to recharge his batteries and wants to add some energy to the Knights’ top-eight quest in the final third of the season.
He trained with injured team-mates Danny Levi, Slade Griffin and Kalyn Ponga in Newcastle’s rehab group, and the club’s high-performance staff added some extra conditioning and cardio training to maintain his fitness levels.
“It’s been a good month for me to get the little niggles out, and I owe the boys a couple of good performances,” he said.
“You never like to miss a game but my body is refreshed, and I just need to transfer that on to the field now and put some good performances in. I’m confident I can do that with the correct preparation and I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
Barnett was surprised by the reaction to the tackle and, though he still likes to play with aggression, he believed his disciplinary record had improved since his first few seasons in the NRL.
The Wingham Tigers junior has made 69 NRL appearances since his debut with Canberra in 2015, and has developed into a consistent contributor in the Newcastle pack under coach Nathan Brown.
“I think I have changed the way I’ve played. If you look at my previous suspensions, it was probably me being a bit stupid or a bit of a madman, but this time I just got a tackle wrong, and I won’t be the last one to get it wrong,” Barnett explained.
“There’s technical things I can fix with that tackle, or maybe go for another type of tackle, but in the way I play, I think I’ve really improved in my discipline areas. I can still always improve and look to improve, but I don’t think I need to change the way I play as such.
“… I’ve had a couple of years with a pretty good record and I had no carry-over points or anything like that, but the people who threw their two bob’s [worth] in, it probably says more about them than what it does about me.
“But they don’t know me and I don’t know them, so they can comment all they want because at the end of the day, what they say doesn’t affect me at all. That’s the way I’ve rolled with it, I’ve moved on now, and I’m just looking forward to getting back out there.”