IT'S taken 32 games to get there, but Kurt Mann is finally settling into the role the Newcastle Knights originally hired him to fill.
Mann joined Newcastle from St George Illawarra at the end of 2018 after then Knights coach Nathan Brown convinced him he would be given a chance to establish himself as a starting hooker.
Instead he spent last year switching between five-eighth, fullback, centre, wing, halfback and the bench, playing only occasional cameos at dummy-half.
Since the arrival of new coach Adam O'Brien, Mann spent the first 12 games this season at five-eighth and was in the form of his career.
But after season-ending injuries to Jayden Brailey, Andrew McCullough and Connor Watson, Mann volunteered to fill the void, a move that allowed new signing Blake Green to slot in seamlessly in last week's 44-4 win against Wests Tigers.
Mann played the full 80 minutes against the Tigers, making 36 tackles and 59 attacking metres, and admitted he was "pretty fatigued there at certain times of the game".
But with a full week to fine-tune his dummy-half play, he was confident he would only improve as the season progresses, starting on Sunday when the Knights host Manly at McDonald Jones Stadium.
"I haven't spent a lot of time there, so I'm only going to get better, the more time I play there," the 27-year-old Queenslander said.
"Having Greeny with us is massive. He's an old head, and when I found out we were a chance of signing him I couldn't back that decision more.
"I know Greeny pretty well from Melbourne. I played outside him down there and he fits in perfectly."
Mann said he was not superstitious and lost no sleep over the supposed "hookers' curse" that claimed Brailey, McCullough and Watson, prompting the latter to joke that Newcastle's No.9 jersey should be retired.
"I don't believe in that stuff," he said. "I think the more thought you put into it, the more likely it is to actually happen, so best not to think about it."
Knights skipper Mitchell Pearce showered Mann in praise after last week's win, saying the utility and back-rower Mitch Barnett had been Newcastle's standout players this season.
"Kurt's done a really good job all year for us," Pearce said. "I think he's been our best player. If there was a player of the year award tomorrow, I think it would be Kurt or Barney who would be getting that. They've been our two best players. Killer's owned that [five-eighth] spot. He had plenty of doubters at the start of the year, and just to see how much he's gone and owned it, he's been really impressive.