Born: 21 April, 1972 – Auckland
Test record: 26 Tests (1995-2000) – 12 tries (48 points)
Tours: 1995 World Cup, 1998 tour of Great Britain, 1999 Tri Nations, 2000 World Cup
Otahuhu product Richard Barnett was a valuable and versatile backline performer during a six-season tenure with the Kiwis, captaining New Zealand in the last 11 of his 26 Test appearances.
A breakout 18-try season for the Leopards in the 1992 Auckland premiership led to New Zealand Māori selection for that year’s Pacific Cup and a provincial debut in 1993, representing Auckland at wing and fullback.
Earning a contract with Cronulla Sharks, Barnett scored a double on first-grade debut and finished with 12 tries from 20 appearances as one of 1994’s most impressive rookies.
A strong follow-up campaign for the club resulted in a place in New Zealand’s 1995 World Cup squad. The 23-year-old debuted on the wing in the heart-stopping pool win over Tonga and scored a memorable try as the Kiwis stormed back late in the semi-final to force Australia into extra-time, before ultimately going down 30-20.
Barnett was a first-choice pick when available for the next five years. A tall, athletic and elusive flyer with excellent aerial ability, he scored three tries in the two-match home series win over Papua New Guinea in 1996 and featured two Tests during the subsequent series cleansweep of Great Britain.
He was a member of New Zealand’s side that won back-to-back Super League World Nines titles in 1996-97 before playing fullback (with Matthew Ridge unavailable) in the 1997 Anzac Test against Super League Australia. After enduring Super League grand final defeat to Brisbane in his last game for Cronulla, Barnett reverted to the wing for the Kiwis’ momentous 30-12 victory over Super League Australia at North Harbour Stadium.
Joining Sydney City Roosters, he featured in all six matches of New Zealand’s 1998 Test schedule: the famous Anzac Test triumph at North Harbour, the two post-season Tests against Australia and the three-match series in Great Britain. With Ridge again injured, Barnett wore the No.1 jersey for the last Test against Australia and all three internationals in the Old Dart – scoring two tries in the 36-16 second-Test win at Bolton.
Barnett was predominantly used at centre by the Roosters but retained the Kiwis’ fullback role in 1999. He played in the courageous Anzac Test loss in Sydney then was elevated to the captaincy for the end-of-season campaign, leading New Zealand in a big win over Tonga and in all three Tri Nations matches – including an upset of Australia and an agonisingly close defeat to the Kangaroos in the final.
The skipper suffered terrible facial injuries after a collision with Australian winger Wendell Sailor in the record-breaking 52-0 Anzac Test loss in 2000, which ruled Barnett out of the Roosters’ run to the NRL grand final. But the 28-year-old recovered in time to lead the Kiwis to the World Cup, where he lined up at fullback in all six matches.
Barnett scored two tries in each of the pool wins over Lebanon, Cook Islands and Wales – taking his Test tally to 12 touchdowns – and led New Zealand superbly in rampant knockout wins over France and England, and in the Old Trafford final loss to Australia that was much more competitive than the 40-12 scoreline suggested. The World Cup decider would be the last of Barnett’s 26 Tests.
After a Sydney career that netted 46 tries from 118 games, Barnett headed to the English Super League and had two-season stints with both London Broncos and Hull FC, eventually hanging up the boots in 2004.
Barnett maintained a prominent rugby league role as a presenter and commentator for Sky Sports.