Barnett's barnstorming game seals the deal

Margie McDonald

Westpac NSW Blues coach Michael Maguire said the weekend’s performance by New Zealand Warriors prop Mitch Barnett was hard to ignore, when he came to finalising his forward pack for Game Three of the Ampol State of Origin series next week.

Barnett, who has been on the extended bench for Games One and Two, played 83 minutes in the front row and ran for 226 metres in the golden-point thriller against Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs on Saturday, even though the Warriors were pipped 13-12 by a Matt Burton field goal.

The pair will be on the same side this week as True Blue Burton has been named on Maguire’s extended bench for the deciding Origin game at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium.

Barnett also had a linebreak, a try assist, five tackle busts, five offloads and made 56 tackles against the Bulldogs. 

“It’s pretty hard to ignore that but I think he’s been doing that week in and week out,” Maguire said on Monday after naming his starting 17 last night.

“To be honest his selfless way of being around camp – all the boys will really enjoy having him in the team.

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

Barnett’s elevation to the bench means Manly Warringah Sea Eagles back-rower Haumole Olakau’atu becomes one of the three emergency players. 

“Mitch has been playing really well and I just feel he can cover a bit more in the middle for us,” Maguire said.

“Either player – Haumole or Mitch – are definitely great players but Mitch Barnett has earned his opportunity. That will allow Liam Martin to stay there on the edge.

“For Haumole he said ‘Whatever is best for the team’ and he’ll come in and train with us and be ready if needed.”

The other change to the 17 who won Game Two in Melbourne 38-18 is Newcastle Knights centre Bradman Best for the injured Latrell Mitchell (foot).

“Plenty of guys we could select from but Bradman has been on fire the last month, so it’s nice to bring him in and replace the big fella in Latrell.

“Look obviously Tommy (Trbojevic) came back and we’ve got various other players who can play in that position.

“But Bradman in the last month has really shown what he’s capable of doing. It was an easy pick for me.

“One he’s actually been there before – and he was probably one of the best players in the last game last year – and two, just the way he plays.

“I had a lot of thoughts about him before we even started the series, but he was out injured. It’s nice to see him back running around and playing really well.”

Maguire was asked if the Blues had time to reflect on the 1994 NSW side, which won the series in front of a raucous Suncorp Stadium crowd by taking the deciding Game Three 27-12.

“Well I’ve got a group that wants to create their own piece of history – that’s the most important thing for this group,” he said.

“We’ve shown what we’re capable of, albeit the boys have actually dissected the game a fair bit and identified what we need to improve on.

“How we want to play is the style that you’ve seen.”