Following the announcement of Mitch Barnett's suspension by the judiciary on Tuesday, 29 March, many expected his name to be omitted from the media until his return against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in Round 10. However, this has not been the case.
Barnett, who was sentenced to a six-game ban following a stray elbow to the face of Penrith's Chris Smith, is reportedly on the verge of "quitting" the Knights outfit to join the New Zealand Warriors.
Signed with the club until the end of 2023, News Corp has revealed that Barnett's management has been in conversation with a number of clubs for months and that the Warriors are currently at the head of the pack to steal the second-rower away.
According to reports, the Knights are not expected to stand in the embroiled backrower's way as he looks to link up with Warrior's coach Nathan Brown, who was critical in luring Barnett to Newcastle in 2016.
Having shown complete remorse for the situation, the Warriors felt comfortable in tabling a three-year deal to Barnett with the second-rower expected to join Dylan Walker and Marata Niukore as new members of the club in 2023.
The Warriors have been active in recruiting lately, following the early release of Euan Aitken and Matt Lodge's recent decision to not extend with the club beyond 2023.
Barnett, who has been a critical cog in the Knights machine since moving from the Canberra Raiders in 2016, will likely leave a big hole in the club's back-row if he did elect to depart a year early.
Before leaving the field in Round 3 after his hit on Smith, Barnett had produced heavily for a Knights outfit outperforming expectations in this early season. This included a Round 1 stunner against the Sydney Roosters.
Newcastle's current leader of the pack, Tyson Frizell, has a player option in 2023, and Jirah Momoisea is off-contract at year's end. This leaves Lachlan Fitzgibbon and Brodie Jones, both currently signed till the end of 2023, as the likely long-term options for the Knights if Barnett chooses to leave.