In a team featuring Kalyn Ponga, Mitchell Pearce and David Klemmer, it may sound silly to label Kurt Mann as Newcastle’s most important player. But with the Knight’s now sitting in the top four, a lot of that success can be attributed to the man wearing the No. 6 jersey.
Leading into this season a lot of conjecture surrounded who would partner Mitchell Pearce in the halves. Nowadays having a solid spine who can play a lot of football together is integral to long-term success. Ponga and Pearce were locks for Nos. 1 and 7, and the recruitment of Jayden Brailey from Cronulla seemed to consolidate the dummy half position. However, the No. 6 jersey was still vacant.
Connor Watson had performed admirably there in the past, but it seems his utility value outweighed his natural playmaking skills. Mason Lino was also partnered with Pearce but failed to deliver on the high promise he had shown coming through the junior ranks with the Warriors. Even young gun Phoenix Crossland has been training with Pearce in the preseason and looked to add to his one-game tally from last year.
The forgotten man, however, was Kurt Mann. After signing with Newcastle for the 2019 season it looked like Mann’s story would repeat itself again. A talented player who could cover many positions, he would be used for that sole purpose. Someone who showed promise but couldn’t lock down a starting role. Those types of players are so important yet so recyclable. In five years Mann had already played with three different NRL sides. He was yet to fulfil on his promised potential.
However, this year has been a different story. In his 19 appearances for the Knights last year only five were in the five-eighth role. However, new head coach Adam O’Brien entrusted Mann to fulfil a simplified gameplay himself, and hasn’t it worked wonders!
After ten rounds of this year’s competition Mann has scored five tries, five try assists and three line breaks and averages over 110 running metres per game. He also sits third in the competition for five-eighths in tackle breaks with 28. The renaissance of Kurt Mann has been a surprise to many but not to coach O’Brien.
The wonder of O’Brien’s coaching is not that he has devised a whole new attack for Mann to follow with a whole book of plays and calls; it’s that he knows the strengths of each of his players to entrust them in their role.
“I coached Kurt in Melbourne. I knew he was a good runner of the football and hard to tackle when he runs the ball,” O’Brien said after Newcastle’s 27-6 Round 6 win over the Brisbane Broncos.
“Looking at our team … even before the rules changed we didn’t need someone to be the greatest ballplayer that ever lived, we just needed someone to complement Kalyn and Junior.”
With Newcastle now sitting in fourth place with just ten rounds to go, the importance of Mann will be highlighted more than ever. Games will become closer, moments will become bigger but Mann will again just do his role.
And if the first half of this year has shown, if Kurt Mann just continues to do his role, then Newcastle will go a long way in contesting for this year’s premiership.