Winning is all that matters for Barnett and Buhrer

One of them was included in Newcastle's 17-man squad for their first game of the season against Cronulla at McDonald Jones Stadium on Friday night.

The other missed out, being named on Nathan Brown's extended reserves bench in jersey No.19.

Battle-hardened forwards Mitch Barnett and Jamie Buhrer, who have suffered through the tough times at the Knights since arriving in 2016 and 2017 respectively, remain as motivated as ever.

But they have accepted their fate, for now, for the greater good of the club.

Barnett, selected in the interchange rotation in No.16, and Buhrer still aspire to be in Brown's starting 13 each week, but they understand the need to do what is required of them as the Knights strive to make the finals for the first time since 2013.

"I want to win a comp," Barnett told NRL.com before the team was announced on Tuesday.

"If you're not motivated by that, you're not playing the game for the right reasons.

"Everyone wants to win. Your 17 who take the field each day, there's another 15-plus players in the squad that trained all pre-season with you, and everyone's at different stages of their careers.

Knights backrower Mitch Barnett.
Knights backrower Mitch Barnett. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"You've got kids who are still playing under 20s, and some who still qualify for SG Ball (under 18s), so there’s a lot of depth around. Everyone's at different stages where they're at, but I'm confident that whatever 17 take the field each week, they'll do the job."

Brown preferred Sione Mata'utia and Lachlan Fitzgibbon as Newcastle's starting back-rowers against the Sharks, moving Mata'utia back into the pack after off-season recruit Hymel Hunt proved his fitness from a hamstring injury and was selected at left centre.

That meant Barnett, a durable workhorse who played 23 games last season and won the 2017 Danny Buderus Medal as Newcastle's Player of the Year, was selected on the bench alongside Kurt Mann, Aidan Guerra and Daniel Saifiti.

"There's going to be a hard word had this week, and it's how we respond to it," Barnett said.

"We've got to respond positively, otherwise we won't be here in the long run, but the group we've got, they understand. It just puts pressure on everyone to play well each week.

"If you're not there one week, it doesn't mean you can't be there the next, so we're confident in the squad we've got, and things are looking up for us."

Of Barnett's 53 appearances for the Knights since transferring from Canberra midway through 2016, only three have been off the bench. The aggressive 24-year-old forward hails from Wingham and played juniors with the Knights before moving to Canberra and making his NRL debut in 2015.

Despite Newcastle's 30-6 trial loss to Cronulla at Maitland on March 2, Barnett was pleased with his own performance and felt stronger than he has in his past three campaigns with the Knights.

"I thought it was a solid game. By no means did I set the world on fire but I got through my work and felt strong," he said.

"There's one or two little areas that I need to fix up but overall, I was pretty happy with the way I trialled. I didn't get to trial last year, coming off my shoulder reco, but it was great to get out and trial this year and I'm all the better for it.

"My role hasn't changed too much. My role is to lead with my actions, and that's what I try doing.

"I didn't have the year I wanted last year but there's no excuses this year. There's plenty of competition for spots, so I need to play to my best week in, week out, and it's always good to have some senior players and representative players around you."

Buhrer, who has been part of the club's leadership group since arriving from Manly in 2017 and was co-captain with Mitchell Pearce last season, was squeezed further out to one of the four stand-by positions alongside Herman Ese’ese, Josh King and Brodie Jones.

"It's a testament to the squad we've got this time around that we've got competition for positions," Buhrer told the media after training on Monday.

"I've got no doubt that anyone who misses out will be a little bit disappointed but at the same time eager to rip in, if it's NSW Cup or wherever, because first grade is where everyone wants to be.

"You only have to look at some of the best teams, the teams that are in grand finals, the Melbourne Storm for instance, and they have very strong squads.

"They have a lot of first-graders that play in their reserve-grade team by virtue of the strength of their squad and we're starting to build that depth here, and we're going to need it.

"It's a long season, injuries can happen, suspensions and whatnot, so it's good to have that depth."

Knights forward Jamie Buhrer.
Knights forward Jamie Buhrer. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Buhrer acknowledged he had his work cut out for him to secure the No.14 jersey, which has gone to former Dragons and Storm utility Mann for the season-opener, but he will keep applying pressure.

"I can play multiple positions, so whether it's round one or otherwise, I'm just going to work my hardest to make sure I'm in the conversation and hopefully in the 17 at some point," Buhrer said.

"It is what it is. I can't go out and say I want to be a part of a successful team but then be upset by competition, so I'm glad we have that competition here at the club because I want to be in the finals.

"If that's going to make us better, it's going to push my game and push everyone's game, and it's only for the betterment of the club."

The rest of Brown’s first team for 2019 was as expected.

Kalyn Ponga will partner Pearce in the halves, Connor Watson will start at fullback and Kiwi international Danny Levi was named at hooker to complete the spine.

As they did against the Sharks in the dress rehearsal at Maitland, David Klemmer and James Gavet will start in the front row and Tim Glasby was named in No.13 as the other middle forward.

Former Cronulla centre Jesse Ramien and winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall will be on the right edge, and former Rabbitohs strike weapon Hunt will partner another ex-Shark, Edrick Lee, on the left.