KNIGHTS five-eighth Kurt Mann feels like he has "hit the ground running again" with halves partner Mitchell Pearce after the coronavirus break as Newcastle prepare for first-up "tests" against fellow undefeated sides Penrith and Canberra.
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Mann wore the No.6 jersey during the opening two rounds back in March and after returning to training a fortnight ago he wants to continue that combination with Knights skipper Pearce when NRL competition resumes next week.
"The combination was working pretty well," Mann said after training on Monday.
"I spent a bit of time with Pearcy in the halves the year before so I got to know him pretty well and I think I know his game pretty well.
"I don't think we really lost much. I tried to keep in touch with him as much as I could over that break period so we've hit the ground running again since we've been back."
Having already accounted for the Warriors and Wests Tigers this season, the Knights are now scheduled to face the Panthers on May 31 and the Raiders on June 7.
Venues for those fixtures and the remainder of a new-look 2020 draw have yet to be released, however, Mann has welcomed Newcastle's "early" challenges.
"I think it's probably a good thing to get those two teams early on," Mann said.
"We [all] finished the first two games pretty strongly and it will be a good test for us as well so I'm really looking forward to that.
"Penrith [first game back] are going to come out hard and everyone knows the way Canberra finished last year and the way they have started this year as well."
Penrith will be without key playmaker Nathan Cleary and teammate Tyrone May, both handed two-match suspensions last week for breaching social distancing rules during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Cleary, in the most recent outing between the clubs, scored four tries and kicked nine goals for an individual tally of 34 points to almost single-handedly steer the Panthers to a 54-10 victory over Newcastle in the last round of last year.
"Cleary is a big part of what they [the Panthers] do," Mann said. "He's their playmaker and one of the leaders in their team, so that will be a massive loss for them. But they are a good club and they will have someone capable of filling that role as well."
Central Coast Stadium at Gosford was floated on the weekend as Newcastle's potential home base, along with two-time defending premiers the Roosters, Manly and the Warriors.
Earlier reports suggested the Knights and Canberra would host encounters in Sydney.
Mann said the playing group has taken the approach of "anyone, anywhere, anytime", especially with games being played minus crowds.
"We all love playing in Newcastle," Mann said.
"We love being at our home ground and at our stadium, but with no crowd I guess it sort of takes the atmosphere and the home ground advantage away.
"I think we'll play anyone, anywhere, anytime. As a playing group we've adopted that mentality and I'm pretty sure we'll be right wherever we play."
Mann, 27, and NRL rookie Tex Hoy have both been kicking goals at practice in the absence of suspended fullback Kalyn Ponga.
"I've been practicing a little bit," Mann said.
"I haven't goal kicked since under 20s so it took me a while to get going but I'm improving as well.
"Tex is a pretty established goal kicker himself so I guess we'll find out closer to next week who is going to be kicking."
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