Dragons 2018: Mann out to haunt old mentor in finals blockbuster

INTO THE FIRE: Dragons utility Kurt Mann will step into the No. 6 jumper on Saturday. Picture: Adam McLean
INTO THE FIRE: Dragons utility Kurt Mann will step into the No. 6 jumper on Saturday. Picture: Adam McLean

DRAGONS utility Kurt Mann wouldn't have made his NRL debut without Anthony Seibold – but the Rabbitohs coach shouldn't expect any favours from his former protege this week.

Mann was on Tuesday named in the No. 6 jumper for Saturday's semi-final showdown with Souths after captain Gareth Widdop suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week.

It will pit him directly against Cody Walker in the halves, with the pair having played in lower grades with Melbourne under Seibold, who's at almost un-backable odds to claim Coach of the Year honours in his debut season as a head coach.

It comes to no surprise to Mann who credits his former NYC coach with getting him NRL-ready after he shifted from Newcastle ahead of the 2013 season.

“I always thought at some stage he would be an NRL coach and look at him now, he's got his opportunity and grabbed it with both hands,” Mann said. 

“He was always a cool, calm head around the place. He coached me in the 20s and I spent a lot of time with him playing reserve grade.

“He looked after the boys who weren’t playing first grade to push them through. He pushed me along to make my debut and I’ll be forever thankful for that.

“I spent a bit of time with Cody in Melbourne for a couple of years there as well. He's a competitor, that's one thing remember.

“He hates losing and I'm sure he'll be ripping and tearing come game day.” 

It promises to be a pressure-cooker for Mann, though he's no stranger to big games having reached the preliminary final with Melbourne in 2014.

“It’ll be massive, any finals game is big,” Mann said.

“There were 50,000 people there last week [at Suncorp] in an elimination final so there was a lot on the line there.

“I played in some big finals games in Melbourne, I played in a preliminary final where we fell a game short of a grand final.

“Just another game of footy is probably the best way to treat it. All finals games are different, there's a always a different scenario so we’ll just take it step by step.

“Footy's a pretty simple game so keeping it simple is the best way to do things. Gaz plays differently to me but Benny [Hunt] has played with me before and knows what to expect.”

Hunt has been caught in a firestorm of criticism post-Origin as the Dragons limped toward to finals, but re-found his groove against his former club last week.

Widdop's absence is enough for many to put a line through the Dragons this week, but Hunt found a silver lining in the way he and Mann closed the show in a 48-18 win. 

“Once Gaz went out I knew I'd have to take on a bit more of a [dominant] role,” Hunt said.

“It was a good feeling to know we could score some points once he was gone.

“We went on with it and that was the satisfying thing. It gives us a bit of confidence we can do the job without [Widdop].

“Kurt's a quality player and he'll do his job I know we didn't play the best footy or win all those games [we've played together] but I thought he did a great job in his role.

"We all know Kurt's a great runner of the ball and we just want to keep encouraging him this week that, if he sees an opportunity or sees something, we want him to take it on.”

Returning to Suncorp Stadium for the first time in rival colours, in an elimination final no less, would have been daunting for some, but Hunt said the familiar surrounds put him at ease.

“It wasn't too bad to be honest,” Hunt said.

“I've played some really big games up there with massive crowds. I know the crowd wasn't on my side this time but it didn't really feel that different being out there to playing with the Broncos.

“It's something I've always enjoyed and to go back and play there again was a nice feeling. It was probably a good thing for me in a way.

“I've played so much football there and definitely felt the same. I only really heard the crowd having a crack at me whenever the kickoff came but, other than that, it just felt exactly the same.”