Travelling Mann's career comes full circle

At an elite level, Kurt Mann's rugby league education began in Newcastle eight years ago.

Now 26, the versatile Queenslander is back where he started, learning how to play in yet another position as he emerges as an integral member of Nathan Brown’s 2019 Knights squad.

Born in Winton in Queensland's central west, Mann was raised there and in nearby Longreach before making the 725km trek to the coast to attend renowned rugby league school St Brendan’s College in Yeppoon.

Other highly credentialed graduates from the St Brendan’s nursery include Matt Scott, Jake Granville, Ben Hunt, Corey Oates and Broncos coach Anthony Seibold.

As an 18-year-old, in his first stint in the Hunter, Mann showed signs of his potential as a playmaker by steering Newcastle to the 2011 SG Ball premiership and the national under-18 club championship.

After two years in the Knights' junior representative system, he accepted an offer to join Melbourne and played 28 NRL games for the Storm in 2014 and 2015, mostly at centre or as an occasional fill-in at fullback for Billy Slater.

Knights utility Kurt Mann.
Knights utility Kurt Mann. ©NRL Photos

Playing multiple positions, Mann tallied another 60 games in three seasons at the Dragons before returning to Newcastle in December.

He had another year to run on his contract with St George Illawarra but the Dragons released him, clearing the way to sign a three-year deal with the Knights and make a sort of homecoming.

"It was always a town that was like a home for me," Mann told NRL.com of his return to Newcastle.

"I went to a boarding school as well, so this was the first place I ended up after there.

"I always enjoyed coming back and playing here, when I was playing for other teams. It felt pretty normal for me, coming back and playing at McDonald Jones Stadium.

"I never really thought about where I'd end up, but I've kind of done a full circle and found my way back here now."

Mann filled every spot in the backs in his first five years in the NRL but Brown recruited him with the intention of developing him as a hooker.

He is now learning the art and craft of dummy-half play as a back-up to Kiwi international Danny Levi, though in their trial against Cronulla at Maitland earlier this month, Mann started on the wing, moved to hooker during the game and finished in the centres.

In Newcastle's first-up 14-8 victory over the Sharks at McDonald Jones Stadium last Friday night, Mann played 26 minutes off the bench relieving Levi and will play a similar role against Penrith at the same venue on Saturday.

In the only change to that team, prop Herman Ese'ese has been recalled to the bench to replace Daniel Saifiti, who is expected to be sidelined for two to four weeks after suffering foot and knee injuries in the 45th minute of the game against Cronulla.

Mann said he was content to be Levi's understudy while he eases his way into the position but still aspires to secure a place somewhere in Newcastle's run-on side each week.

"I'm still learning all the dummy-half plays," Mann said.

Knights utility Kurt Mann.
Knights utility Kurt Mann. ©Shane Myers/NRL Photos

"It's not somewhere I've played a whole lot of, and Danny's played his whole career at dummy-half, so at the moment I'm still learning and I'll keep chipping away at what I'm doing, and hopefully I'll get to a point where I can play a few more minutes and eventually start there one day."

Pleased to win his first senior game for the Knights, particularly the way they won, Mann said it was important to consolidate with a similar performance against the Panthers on Saturday.

"It's always a good start to a season when you win your first game, because it sets you up from there," he said.

"Our form in the trials probably wasn't that great but when round one comes around, everyone's a different team and we definitely showed that as well.

"But Penrith have shown what they can do over the last few years. They've been real competitive and a strong side over the last few years.

"They've had a change of coaching staff but those sort of things don't take too long to find a way into effect, so I'm sure they'll be keen to come out this weekend and put a good performance in."

Since leaving Newcastle, Mann has played in two finals campaigns – at Melbourne in 2015 and the Dragons last year. In the five years he has been away, the Knights finished 12th in 2014, collected three straight wooden spoons from 2015 to 2017, and ran 11th last season.

Well aware of their struggles during that stretch, Mann said the Knights had to put that behind them and make the most of the talent on their roster.

"They've been rebuilding for the last couple of years but that rebuilding phase is over for us now," he said.

"We've put a really good squad together this year and I think the coaches and the people in the front office have put a lot of work into this place, and they've finally got the squad they want this year.

"So that stage is over for us now and we've got to try to keep chipping away and see how we go for the rest of the year."

For a rugby league student as diligent and dedicated as Mann, failure is clearly not an option.