READY: James McManus and Jarrod Mullen sign autographs for fan Will McClymont at yesterday’s members’ launch.
KNIGHTS winger James McManus said yesterday that he had never been better prepared for a season after returning successfully from a knee injury in last week’s trial match against Cronulla in Tamworth.
The former NSW Origin representative was sidelined for a month after tearing his medial ligament, but a second-half hit-out against the Sharks reassured him he was ready for the season-opener at home against the Tigers on March 11.
McManus said he had been working ‘‘ridiculously hard’’ on rehabilitating the injury and was relieved to get through the trial without incident.
‘‘It was medically right to go. Structurally OK,’’ he said.
‘‘I think the weekend was more about letting me know in my head that it was going to hold. It was important for me to get out there and get a few whacks.’’
Approaching his seventh season in the NRL, McManus said he was excited about the physical improvement he had made during the summer slog.
‘‘I’ve been hitting PBs in the gym and on the field as well,’’ he said. ‘‘Regardless of my knee, I’m feeling a lot stronger and sharper than last year. It’s been a great pre-season, despite having to do my share of rehab, and I feel like I’m in the best shape I’ve been in.”
The 27-year-old appears a certain selection on Newcastle’s left edge for round one but, for perhaps the first time since his 2007 debut, he will have some genuine rivals breathing down his neck.
Veteran outside back Anthony Quinn has returned from Melbourne and with 200 NRL games to his name is unlikely to be content playing out his career in reserve grade.
Kevin Naiqama is Newcastle’s fastest player and will hope to add to his nine top-grade games, in which he has scored seven tries.
And powerful BJ Leilua, sacked by the Sydney Roosters, was on standby for NSW Origin last season.
‘‘A bit of competition’s good,’’ McManus said. ‘‘It’s good that we’ve got a bit of depth there, and if we do lose a few blokes, we can still produce a good football team, which maybe we’ve lacked in recent years.
‘‘But I’m not the sort of player who rests on his laurels or anything like that.
‘‘As hard as they’re trying to push for a spot, I’m trying hard to be a better player.’’
McManus, who has scored 44 tries in 109 games for the Knights, said last season’s disappointing campaign had been a wake-up call. He felt his teammates had a better understanding of what was required by Wayne Bennett and a burning desire to make amends.
‘‘I think everyone is feeling a lot more confident,’’ he said.
‘‘I don’t know if that comes from knowing what to expect and knowing what’s required, but I’m saying I’m feeling in great shape and I know every single player in the squad is feeling the same way.
‘‘Obviously last year was a learning experience under Wayne for all of us. Now we’re confident we know what it needs to win a comp.
‘‘It’s the hard training, pre-season on pre-season, and getting out of our comfort zone that will help us in those tough times during the season.’’
Like his wing partner, Akuila Uate, McManus is off contract this season.
Uate’s contractual status has attracted wide coverage after reports emerged linking him to Japanese rugby union, but McManus has quietly kicked off his own negotiations.
Knights chief Matt Gidley said the talks were in a preliminary stage and no details had been discussed.
James McManus at the Knights members launch yesterday. Picture: Peter Stoop