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While many of his teammates were away playing in the Auckland Nines tournament over the weekend, James McManus assured training didn’t slow down for the rest of the Newcastle Knights' playing squad. 

McManus said the program included high intensity sessions as pre-season training nears an end with trial matches and Round 1 approaching.

“It was a bit hard to do some of the footy stuff with the skeleton crew that we had, but we worked really hard,” McManus said. 

The 29-year-old watched the nine-a-side competition from Newcastle with interest to gauge how the relatively young side faired and how its opponents approached the first hit out of 2015.

“It’s always interesting to see how different footy teams come out and try to play,” he said. 

In fact, it was Nathan Ross, Adam Clydsdale and Tyler Randell who caught the attention of the veteran winger. 

McManus believes the tournament is a fitting stage for emerging young talent to judge where they are up to in terms of playing skill and fitness.

“I think it’s a good platform really for younger players because it gives you a good taste of what it’s like to play in the NRL while there being not as much contact, a bit more space and more time," he explained. 

“It probably allows you to see where you’re at in terms of the pre-season. 

“For a lot of the young guys coming through, their bodies are developing at a fast rate and they’re not quite sure what they are capable of so it is a good platform to see where they’re at.

“It’s a great concept and I hope it stick around for a while.”

The Knights now build for trial matches in Wauchope and Canberra gifting the Knights a chance to spend time in some of the state's grassroots rugby league communities.

“I think it’s important and there’s a real appreciation to have NRL standard players go out into regional areas,” he said.

“The whole region gets behind the games, it’s quite exciting to play.

“Newcastle is part of a big region and they are our people.”

What makes McManus even more eager to take the field is the solid preparation he’s clocked since the pre-season started last year. 

“I’m feeling really good, this is the best pre-season I’ve had in a few years,” he said. 

“I feel really refreshed and hopefully will take that into a good season."