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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald

Departing enforcer Mitch Barnett keeping door ajar for return to the Newcastle Knights

After 126 first-grade games for the Newcastle Knights, back-rower Mitch Barnett is preparing to relocate to Auckland to join the Warriors. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

DEPARTING Knights enforcer Mitch Barnett has not given up hope of returning to finish his NRL career in the blue and red.

After 126 top-grade games for Newcastle, Barnett is preparing to relocate his young family to Auckland to begin a three-season deal with the Warriors.

And while the 28-year-old is excited about what he described as "a new adventure", he admits he will remain emotionally attached to Newcastle, where he plans to eventually settle when his playing days are finished.

"My door is open to anything," Barnett told the Newcastle Herald.

"Obviously I've signed for three years and a lot will depend on how my family likes it over there. We might end up staying over there longer than that.

"But the plan is to move back to Newcastle eventually. We'd like to live here once I've retired from footy.

"So if an opportunity comes up at the Knights down the track, I certainly wouldn't rule it out."

It was an emotional day for Barnett on Sunday as he watched his Newcastle teammates lose their final game of the season 38-16 to Cronulla as he sat on the sideline, nursing a thumb injury that recently required surgery.

For much of the game, he sat alongside Lachlan Fitzgibbon, whom he has played with since they were teenagers in Newcastle's junior rep system.

A two-time Danny Buderus Medallist as Newcastle's player of the year, Barnett won only one of his first 25 games for the Knights, after arriving mid-season from Canberra in 2016.

"I came here looking for an opportunity, back when the club was doing it pretty tough," he said.

"I thought I held my gloves up. I didn't always play the best but I always tried my best. I always put a lot of effort into each game."

Barnett said "representing the town" each week had been the highlight of his seven seasons at the Knights.

"I've just been able to live out a dream here," he said.

"I used to come down here as a kid to watch games, and to get to play at that same stadium in front of my family, that's probably been the highlight. And obviously, I've made a lot of good friends here. Blokes that I'll be mates with for life."

Meanwhile, forward Mat Croker is set to miss the early rounds of next season through suspension after being charged over an alleged "hip-drop" tackle on Cronulla centre Siosifa Talakai on Sunday.

Croker was sin-binned and placed on report after the incident, which forced Talaki to limp from the field with an ankle injury.

The match-review panel charged Croker on Monday with grade-three dangerous contact. If he takes the early guilty plea, the 22-year-old will be suspended for two games. If he opts to fight the charge at the judiciary and loses, he faces three games on the sidelines.

Newcastle's acting captain, Tyson Frizell, argued with referee Chris Sutton that Croker slipped off an attempted tackle on Talaki and did not intentionally target his lower legs.

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