Knights enforcer Mitch Barnett believes he can take his game to another level following a barnstorming return against South Sydney from a long-term neck injury that went perilously close to ending his career.
Barnett was outstanding off the bench in his first game in four months as the Knights scored a nail-biting 20-18 win over the Rabbitohs on Saturday night at Bankwest Stadium that saw them climb back into the top four.
They did it the hard way, almost surrendering a 20-0 advantage with 14 minutes left after giving up three tries in the space of six minutes as Souths threatened to run over the top of them.
Under fire fullback Kalyn Ponga was a dominant force for the Knights with a brilliant individual try and a try assist to silence criticism of his recent form while teenage centre Bradman Best was a powerhouse on the left edge, finishing a clear points winner in his personal duel with Souths rival James Roberts.
But it was Barnett's 50 minute stint off the bench that had everyone talking after the game.
The dual Danny Buderus Medal winner hadn't played since losing all the feeling in his right arm in a tackle in the opening half of the Knights' round two win over Wests Tigers at Leighhardt Oval back in March.
He was forced to undergo neck surgery that included a bone graft after scans revealed a protruding disc was pressuring the spinal cord in his neck, affecting the nerves down his arm. He spent the past 15 weeks on the sideline.
Given the length of his layoff, he could hardly have been more impressive.
Thrown into the contest midway through the first half, he was an inspirational figure for the Knights in both attack and defence.
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But despite earning plenty of praise from coach Adam O'Brien and his teammates, Barnett wasn't completely satisfied.
"I felt a bit awkward out there to be honest just with my timing and I reckon I can get a whole lot better than that with more games under my belt
"I probably need to harness the aggression a bit better with my tackles and win a few more of those. There were times when I got it right but I want to be a bit more consistent with that.
"But like I said, I'll get even better and step it up more. It's been a while though so it's great to be back."
Barnett, who admitted there were some "dark days" along the long recovering road, revealed a scare at training during the build up had left him a bit on edge leading into the game.
"I took a bit of a knock at training early in the week and I freaked out a bit because I got a few sensations down my arm with it," he said.
"I need to get my head around that sort of thing. But I took a lot of confidence out of getting a couple of knocks on it during the game."
O'Brien heaped praise on Barnett for his aggression, "with and without the ball", and said his return from injury along with utility Connor Watson would improve his side considerably.
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