Mann relishes rare shot at his best spot
Kurt Mann isn't shy about declaring five-eighth his best position but with club captain Gareth Widdop's mortgage on the role at St George Illawarra, the versatile Dragons utility knows this brief run could be his only chance for a while.
A half growing up, the 90-kilogram playmaker happily admits his body shape is suited to neither the modern winger's role nor that of a middle forward – two roles he's had to fill this season.
Mann was no happier than anyone else at the club when skipper Widdop dislocated his shoulder in round 22 but having been given an opening, he is now determined to do his best to prove he belongs there.
He got off to a perfect start in a 20-10 win over Wests Tigers at Leichhardt on Saturday, agreeing it was one of the best performances of his 84-game career when he spoke to NRL.com after the match.
"Any chance I get to play in the halves I really enjoy," the 25-year-old said.
"It's a position I grew up playing and something I really enjoy. I'm really grateful to get the opportunity to play there with Gaz being out. [Coach Paul McGregor] put a lot of faith in me with that. Gaz is a world class player and those are big shoes to fill and I really appreciate the chance to play there.
"You don't like to see anyone getting injured, especially someone like Gaz who's our captain and so crucial to our team. I'm happy to fill his shoes while he's gone and hopefully he can get back soon."
Mann was also happy to have a brief respite from taking those tough early carries from the wing, or subbing on for Jack De Belin and having to tackle several middle forwards in every defensive set.
"Wing is the same as the middle, it's not something that really suits my body shape but when I get to play in the middle I get the opportunity to do a bit of ball playing so that sort of suits me," he said.
"But wingers are massive these days, they're big boys, they're like having another front rower that can move. Blokes like Nene [Macdonald], [David] Nofoaluma for the Tigers [on Saturday], blokes like that that are real powerful. It doesn't really suit my body shape."
Aside from four starts on the wing, Mann's 17 other games this year prior to round 23 had been off the bench mostly playing middle.
"Playing middle has probably helped my fitness if anything," he said.
"It's a tough role, you're in there, I get gassed quick because I'm not the biggest player so I sort of expend a bit more energy to pull down a few of the big boys.
"It's something I've got to do in the team, it was my role early on but I'm not worried about that at the moment."
Mann's composed performance caught the eye of the coach. He finished with 25 tackles, seven busts, a line break, a try assist and 96 run metres but even those numbers don't capture the extent of Mann's involvement.
"He goes with the game doesn't he?" McGregor smiled when asked about Mann after the game.
"He's a kid that really enjoys playing footy so when you put him in a position where he's going to get the footy, he's dangerous.
"Defensively he's as good as any five-eighth in the game. He keeps telling me that's the position he wants to play every week and he got an opportunity [on Saturday] and he went out there and played well.
"He's filled in that spot before when we had a half out last year and really knew his role which he did well."
From a team perspective, Mann was relieved to have arrested the Dragons' late-season slump which pushed them out of the top four for a week.
"That's our DNA, the way we played [on Saturday], we scramble for each other, we work hard for each other, we're a gritty team," Mann said.
"To get a win like that, especially against the Tigers, they had a lot to play for and they did come out and play really well at the start of the game and they were finishing with a wet sail as well so it's a good confidence boost leading into the next couple of weeks which are pretty crucial for us. Hopefully we can build a bit of momentum going into it.
"The last couple of weeks have been pretty frustrating with the way we've been playing. We haven't been playing anywhere near as good as we should and what we expect of each other so definitely [beating the Tigers] was a really good confidence booster.
"But it means nothing if we don't back it up so hopefully next week we can go out and put our best foot forward again."