Patience pays off for utility Mann
Dragons coach Paul McGregor doesn't make a habit of dishing out praise but he made an exception for utility Kurt Mann after the 24-year-old finally got a chance to play an 80-minute game against Wests Tigers ahead of what could be a solid run at fullback.
The playmaking fullback was called up at the unfamiliar position of right centre for one game to cover Euan Aitken (hamstring) before shifting to fullback with 20 minutes to go when Josh Dugan strained his hamstring.
After playing just 12 minutes in Round 2 and seven minutes in Round 4 in short stints off the bench, Mann racked up 120 metres with five tackle busts while making 15 tackles to earn the praise of his coach and teammates.
"It was really good. I've been getting minimum minutes lately, just playing off the bench and covering for a few boys with [Aitken] being injured it's just good to get an opportunity to play a few minutes and show what I'm capable of," Mann said after the game.
Dugan will be missing for at least one week but it could be longer and Mann now has the inside running on the No.1 jersey until the NSW and Kangaroos star returns.
"I grew up playing fullback and in the halves. That's where I like playing and hopefully I can fill his shoes there for a while until he's back and see what happens after that," Mann said.
After a full pre-season preparing for a number of eventualities, Mann said he'd spent more than enough time filling in at the back to be ready to go.
"I played 80 minutes at fullback in the first trial so I spent a little bit of time at fullback. I did the whole pre-season last year at fullback so I know what I've got to do when I'm playing there and hopefully I can fill that position," he added.
Dragons fans will remember that a plan to shift Dugan to the centres at the start of 2016 with Mann to add a ball-playing option form the back was less than successful – in part due to the former Storm utility's own lacklustre form during that period.
"I had a bit of a shot last year and it didn't really work out for me. I wasn't in great form at the start of the year and lost my chance there," Mann said.
"It is a good opportunity for me to show them what I'm capable of wearing the No.1 but Duges is a quality player, an Origin fullback so I'll do my best while he's out and see what happens after that."
The chance to get a run in his preferred position again has plenty of appeal.
"Fullback or in the halves, that's my preferred position. I like being around the footy. Out in the centres, I'm not the biggest bloke so that's probably not my preferred position body-shape wise so either fullback or in the halves," Mann said.
"It's been a bit hard [so far this year] because I don't really know where I'm going to be playing week to week. Especially because I'm capable of playing a few different positions so it's been a bit difficult to try and nail a certain role in the team."
McGregor spoke in the post-match press conference of the importance of Mann staying patient and waiting for his chance.
"But we've seen Kurt come in and I thought he was outstanding in his game at right centre. He hasn't played there before, he's played a bit of left centre and left wing last year but he came in, he's waited for that opportunity and took that opportunity," McGregor said.
Veteran winger Jason Nightingale also praised Mann's application while waiting for his shot.
"The patience that he's showed to get in the team, he's been in the 17 every week and obviously played a full game [on Sunday] for the first time this year," Nightingale said.
"The fact that he's been able to keep his head up throughout that time puts him in a good position to take his opportunity if that is the way we go."
Mann also spoke of the encouragement McGregor had given him after the game.
"He knows it's been pretty hard for me in the last couple of weeks, especially after the season I had last year," Mann said.
"He knows it's been hard, he's been trying to give me some minutes and just hasn't been able to. He was real happy with the way I went, being ready, staying ready for my opportunity. "