James McManus - Knights v Titans preview

As Chanel and Sione Mata'utia's reputations grew in Newcastle colours during the latter part of last season, regular Knights wingers James McManus and Akuila Uate watched on from the sideline plotting how they were going to reclaim their spots once fit.

The Mata'utia brothers starred in the absence of the first-choice duo, with McManus being ruled out for the year with a toe injury just one game after playing Origin III, while Uate bid adieu to season 2014 with four games to spare. Yet the experienced pair has bounced back in a big way in the pre-season with extra training sessions while players are typically taking a break from the game. 

"The young boys did well at the end of last season but Aku and I couldn't do anything about it," McManus told NRL.com.

"We were injured. We weren't there and we said to each other we are going to rip in once we were fit and make sure come Round 1 next season we're in the best shape possible and show everyone we're a couple of great players as well.

"I know after my last pre-season – I don't think I started running until mid-January – I struggled because you can't get into the shape required to play, starting that late. To be able to do what I have throughout the off-season and pre-season, you really see the benefits of doing it.

"Aku and I trained with all of the club's trainers throughout the break and I've seen myself become capable of lifting weights, run times and do turns I haven't done in five seasons. I've had good seasons when I haven't been feeling this good so I'm looking forward to seeing what I can do now."

Labeling it the best pre-season of his career, it appears McManus's and Uate's determination has paid off under the guidance of Rick Stone.

Guaranteed by Stone as the Knights' first-choice wingers for Round 1 following Newcastle's final trial last weekend – a huge 26-4 win against the Raiders – McManus said he wasn't threatened by the depth at the club despite Jake Mamo's impressive off-season and Sione Mata'utia debuting for Australia at the Four Nations.

"I'm signed with Newcastle for the next couple of years and I've been here a long time. Stoney knows how I can benefit a football team and I can't be too threatened really considering last season I was going well enough to play State of Origin," McManus said.

"Having these young blokes here though drives everyone to make sure they are getting the most out of training and pushing themselves to the limit. You have to get yourself in good knick to last the whole season in the NRL. 

"If you're chasing the tail from the start then you're going to have a fair few niggles to deal with from the first whistle and that's what happened to a few of us last year. It's great to see the position the club is in and hopefully it can drive everyone on throughout the year." 

With Newcastle arguably boasting the best depth in the outside backs in the NRL, McManus believes he has become somewhat of a leader to the club's rookies.

Admitting there have been times where the pups have taught the old dog new tricks, McManus said he was more than willing to help his young teammates wherever possible.

"The change-up of coaches has helped us in terms of learning a few new things and playing the game a bit differently but I'd like to think I can help the guys out with stuff they may not have experienced quite yet," McManus said.

"I think what the young blokes brought in straight away was enthusiasm, however they haven't had any setbacks or anything holding them back in their career yet, they are just taking everything as it comes which has been really great to feed off. 

"They may make the odd error here or there because they aren't experienced yet but otherwise it does really give you a push to be at your best at all times."