‘Cool story’: Blues rookie’s ultimate sacrifice

New South Wales Blues State of Origin Squad Media Opportunity
Mitch Barnett made the ultimate sacrifice earlier in the series and has now been rewarded with an Origin debut in the decider. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty Images

When Blues coach Michael Maguire explained why Mitch Barnett had done enough to earn a State of Origin debut in the toughest arena possible, he used the word “selfless” to describe a man who has waited years for this opportunity and even missed the birth of his second child just to train with the team.

Barnett was a part of Maguire’s squads for the first two games of the series and will get his crack in the decider at Suncorp Stadium where so many hopes and dreams have died painful deaths for Blues players over the years.

But this team feels a bit different, with Barnett making the ultimate sacrifice before game 1 when he missed the birth of his son Zane to train with the team before he made a quick trip back to Auckland to be with his young family.

New South Wales Blues State of Origin Training Session
Mitch Barnett has trained with the Blues in both camps. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

“It was just a decision my wife and I made and an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” the Blues rookie said.

“It was a great moment for me, and it will make for a cool story one day with the family. It was a cool moment.

“I’ve got a two-and-a-half-year-old as well. Two little boys will keep me on my toes.”

Barnett has been brought onto the bench for Manly’s Haumole Olakau’atu, who didn’t do anything wrong in the first two games but never got the chance to dominate on the edge like he does at club level.

“I feel extremely bad for Haumole. He is a terrific player and a terrific person,” Barnett said.

“He was one of the first people to message me when the team was announced. It just shows the character he’s got and the character this group has got. I’m extremely grateful for his friendship and his kind words.

“It’s just my opportunity and I am going to take it.”

The Warriors forward is one of two inclusions for the decider, with Knights centre Bradman Best coming in for the injured Latrell Mitchell and keen to see what his former Newcastle teammate can do next week.

NSW Blues State of Origin Media Opportunity
Bradman Best has backed Barnett to star for the Blues next week. Picture: Matt King/Getty Images

“He was built for this,” Best said.

“His form has been unreal and he’s been killing it for the Warriors, so I can’t wait to see him for the Blues.

“His toughness and his work ethic (make him built for Origin). He doesn’t stop and he’s got a motor like no other. I can’t wait to see him go run out.”

It’s been a long journey for Barnett to reach this point, with the versatile forward going from the Raiders to the Knights to the Warriors where he’s shifted from the edge to the middle and back again at various times.

He was enormous against the Bulldogs on Saturday, with Barnett reflecting on how far he’s come on and off the field, with the Warriors playing a key role in his transformation over the past two seasons.

NRL Rd 14 -  Cowboys v Warriors
Barnett has matured immensely and is playing his most consistent footy with the Warriors. Picture: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images

“It’s been about a three-year process for me, maturing,” said Barnett, who has changed a lot since he was suspended for six matches for an ugly shot on Chris Smith in 2022.

“I just realised along the way, natural progression in life. I have people who believe in me at the Warriors, and that really helps.

“My wife, my mum and all of my family (have helped). I had to work a little bit on myself. Having a coach (in Andrew Webster) who believes in me helps as well.

“(Chief executive) Cam George at the Warriors has been amazing. They have tidied a few things up just to get me to where I am.”