New Knights coach Adam O'Brien wants to take Kurt Mann back to where it all began.
Mann spent his first six seasons bouncing between the bench and every position in the backline, but the 26-year-old Queenslander is tipped to start his second NRL campaign in Newcastle wearing the No.6 jersey alongside captain Mitchell Pearce.
Born in Winton and raised in Longreach, Mann was a promising playmaker who steered the Knights to the 2011 SG Ball premiership and national under-18 club championship before embarking on his NRL career as a utility player for the Storm and the Dragons.
"I grew up in the halves. I moved down to Newcastle when I was 17 as a halfback," Mann told reporters after training in Newcastle on Tuesday.
"I came here as a halfback, ended up playing a bit of fullback after that, then got moved into the centres, bit of wing, bit of everywhere after that.
"But that's where I enjoy playing most, in the halves."
Kurt Mann on Nines and Knights five-eighth role
In the battle be Pearce's halves partner for Newcastle's March 14 season-opener against the Warriors at McDonald Jones Stadium, Mann has impressed his new coach during pre-season training and is understood to have the jump on Mason Lino, Phoenix Crossland and utility Connor Watson.
"I've simplified his role there at five-eighth," Knights coach Adam O'Brien told the Newcastle Herald on Monday.
"We don't need him to be a number of things, we just want him to be a solid contributor and that's what he's been all pre-season."
Mann, who former Newcastle coach Nathan Brown signed from the Dragons with a plan to convert him into a dummy-half, has embraced the opportunity to train in the same position all summer.
"It's been really good for me, just having a consistent position at the moment," Mann said.
"That's where I've been training, at five-eighth, and I'm really enjoying that, where as in the past, I've played many different positions and haven't really had that consistency there … so I'm real thankful for Adam to give me that chance at the moment.
"I spent a fair bit of time there last year when we were on our little winning streak – I think I played most of those games in the halves – and I'm pretty comfortable with Pearcey.
"He's a lovable sort of a bloke and he's easy to get along with so I'm very comfortable playing that position and playing that role in the team."
Named as co-captain for the tournament alongside experienced back-rower Aidan Guerra, Mann's leadership skills will face their first significant test at the NRL Nines in Perth on February 14 and 15.
He will then have the chance to spend some quality time with Pearce in full-blown trials against the Dragons at Maitland on February 22 and the Roosters at Gosford on February 29.
"I can't wait to play footy," Mann said.
"I'm so over training by now. It's a long, long pre-season so I think all the boys are pretty excited to get out there and play some form of footy at least."
Newcastle artist Mitch Revs, whose mates include Pearce, Watson and Kalyn Ponga, has included some familiar Novocastrian images and icons in the Knights' Nines jersey.
"I've always been inspired by Newcastle," Revs told reporters on Tuesday.
"I grew up here surfing and skating and doing the things that teenagers do living on the east coast, so creating this artwork for the jersey was all about incorporating my vision of what I've grown up with ... and to have all that incorporated into the one thing is pretty cool for me."