Mann ready to fill in for Widdop at Dragons
Kurt Mann believes he can bolster St George Illawarra's left-edge defence and dig the Dragons out of their late-season slump before the finals after being handed the No.6 jersey for Saturday's match against Wests Tigers.
The 25-year-old has been named at five-eighth in place of injured captain Gareth Widdop for the clash with the Tigers at Leichhardt Oval, partnering Ben Hunt in the halves after Widdop dislocated his shoulder in last Saturday's 40-4 loss to Parramatta.
Cameron McInnes and Tyson Frizell will share the captaincy duties in Widdop's absence.
Mann, who has alternated between interchange utility and right wing in his 21 matches for the Dragons this season, will deputise for Widdop until the English playmaker's return in three-to-six weeks.
"I think I play my best footy when I play in the halves and some of the best games I have played have been when I have played five-eighth,” said Mann, who has spent most of his 750 minutes of game time this season as a ball-playing forward.
"It suits my body type a bit better to play in the halves rather than the second row. I'm not the biggest barnstorming back-rower."
With Jarryd Hayne scoring a hat-trick of tries on the right wing for the Eels, St George Illawarra's left-edge defence has been identified as an area they need to improve. Mann was confident of being able to assist Tariq Sims, Tim Lafai and Nene Macdonald on that side.
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Mann will also look to add to the team's attack, as he did last year after Widdop suffered a knee injury in the Anzac Day match against Sydney Roosters and again later in the season when promoted in place of halfback Josh McCrone.
"In the games I played there last year I sort of added something different. I don't mind throwing the ball around a bit," he said.
While he hasn't had a regular starting position this season, Mann trained in the halves with Hunt at the start of the year and is confident they can form a good combination.
He said criticism of the club's star 2018 recruit was unwarranted and backed him to lead the team into the finals after dropping out of the top four for the first time this season after losing five of their last six matches.
"I did a bit of work with Benny in the pre-season and he certainly makes things a whole lot easier when you are playing outside him," Mann said. "He controls a lot of the shape and everything else and you don't really have to think much, you just play off the back of it.
"I think he is still playing good footy, you saw that in Origin. He got criticised after Origin II and in Game III he came out and killed it - he had a blinder - but I don't think [all] the weight should be on his shoulders.
"It is a team sport and across the park people aren't playing at their best at the moment. A lot of teams at this time of the year, and especially around Origin, go through form slumps. It is not just this team that has done it and it is nothing new."
McInnes also spoke out in support of Hunt and said Mann would help stiffen their defence.
"Our whole focus has just got to be on defence and grinding teams down, it doesn't need to be anything flashy," McInnes said. "We have some great options at half who are great defenders so that is what we need.
"In terms of Benny and the way he is playing now, his talk is as good as ever, he is demanding the footy, he is competing. In terms of his influence on the team, it is huge and it is as big as ever. I wouldn't want to play with another halfback."