Kurt Mann knows the NRL Nines is far from the 'be-all and end-all' but he is still excited about the prospect of taking all he has learned at five-eighth on the training paddock over the pre-season into a competitive arena.
With Newcastle Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce set to miss the trip to Perth for the tournament on February 14 and 15, Mann will likely step into a senior playmaking role alongside Kurt Gidley in pool matches against the Warriors and Penrith.
He is already looking forward to the opportunity.
"Without Pearcey there, I guess I am going to have to take a fair bit of control," he said. "Nines isn't the be-all and end-all but it is your first chance to put out what you've done in pre-season and show what you've done all the training for.
"Once we're out there, the competition is going to get going and I'm pretty sure our competitive natures are all going to kick in. We're not going there to lose."
After shifting between a variety of positions in his first season with the Knights in 2019, Mann admits he is highly motivated by the chance to nail down the number six jumper this year but is taking nothing for granted. In the eyes of doubting fans, he still has plenty to prove.
"I grew up in the halves - that's where I enjoy playing the most," he said.
"I'm feeling really comfortable playing that position and that role in the team. It's been really good for me having a consistent sort of position at the moment. I'm real thankful for Adam [coach O'Brien] to be giving me that chance. But I'm going to have to put my best foot forward if I want to get that spot."
Mann had his first look at the club's new Nines jersey yesterday alongside artist Mitch Revs, who came up with the intricate design that features some iconic Newcastle sporting figures and landmarks.
"We're very fortunate to have Mitch design our jersey this year," he said.
"There's a lot of detail that's gone into it. I can't imagine how long it would have taken him to do it. There's sponsors, there's Old Boys - there's pretty much all of Newcastle's personality on there."
Revs, a former street artist and tattooist who is now making a real name for himself with digital artwork, said the inspiration for his design came from growing up in Newcastle "surfing and skating".
"Creating this artwork for the jersey was all about incorporating my vision of what I've grown up with, having local legends like MR [surfer Mark Richards] and the Old Boys and tying them into the artwork."
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