KNIGHTS utility Kurt Mann has produced the best season of his NRL career as he deals with the heartache of not knowing how much longer his mother, Jane, has left to live.
Jane was diagnosed more than a year ago with terminal liver cancer and her oncologists recently made the momentous decision to stop her chemotherapy treatment and start preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Adding further strain to an already harrowing situation, Jane lives in Warwick, Queensland, and Kurt is unable to cross the border unless he spends two weeks in hotel quarantine.
The NRL's "Project Apollo" last week brokered a compromise, allowing Mann permission to leave the Knights' "bubble" to travel to Tenterfield, in the far north of NSW.
His mother made the trip south and spent several days with her son and other family before he rejoined the Knights late last week to prepare for their clash with Sydney Roosters at the SCG.
There could be an opportunity for more family time this week after Mann pleaded guilty to a grade-one "crusher" tackle on Roosters winger Brett Morris to accept a one-match suspension, the first of his career.
"Any chance I can, I'm going to try and get up there as much as I can," Mann told the Newcastle Herald.
Despite his mother's situation, Mann has not allowed it to adversely affect his game-day performances.
"It's been difficult at times, but one thing that really brings joy to Mum is watching me play footy," he said.
"I think she'd be pretty angry if I missed a game.
"She's really selfless like that. She's not selfish at all.
"She wants to see me do well and enjoys watching me play footy.
"That's one way I can help keep her happy."
Mann said since his mother's chemotherapy treatment stopped: "She's just doing her best, taking it day by day."
The emotional impact of the NRL's biosecurity protocols was perhaps best illustrated when the Knights played Melbourne at Sunshine Coast Stadium six weeks ago, and Mann's mother and family attended the game.
"I couldn't touch her or give her a hug," Mann said. "Two weeks later, I found out they were stopping her chemo. So that's something I've regretted ever since.
"I definitely know now that after our last game this year, I'll be giving her a big hug."
Mann said Knights coach Adam O'Brien, football manager Danny Buderus and his teammates had provided staunch support.
When he first mentioned to O'Brien that his mother's condition was deteriorating, the coach's immediate response was "just go" and spend time with her.
"I don't really want to leave the boys short," Mann said.
"But everyone in the team realises family comes first. They all wanted me to get up and see my Mum as soon as I could, so they all understood where I was coming from."
With regards to his suspension, Mann said his tackle was accidental but he had no complaints about being charged.
"I can understand what they're trying to do with the new grading system for crusher tackles," he said. "They're trying to protect the players."
O'Brien said it was "amazing" what Mann has been able to achieve this season, given the "very difficult and emotional" circumstances.
"I'm proud of the man he is," O'Brien said.
Mann has played all 18 of Newcastle's games this season to put himself in contention for a Queensland Origin call-up.
His ability to play hooker, lock and every position in the backline suggests he would make the ideal bench utility for the Maroons in the end-of-season interstate series.
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