McManus is the man!


McManus is the man!

By Smithy

Origin is such a different environment for footy players. Would you like to be responsible for guaranteeing the successful performance of any player? I guess that’s what we all expect of Bob Fulton and Laurie Daley so here goes for me too.

I questioned the selection of Nathan Merritt prior to Origin 2 and suggested James McManus as a better alternative. It’s not about Merritt being a poor player; it’s about his talents being more suited to club footy.

Which brings me to why the Newcastle winger is the better selection for Origin?

I remember the first time I watched him playing lower grades for the Knights in 2006. Both on video and live at matches as I prepared myself for joining the Newcastle club the next season, McManus offered plenty to consider for a coach who knew little about him. No real pedigree, selected by Knights scout Warren Smiles form the B pool at Australian Schoolboy Championships he seemed good enough to get into reserve grade pretty quickly.

The first thing that struck me as he went about his business in the centres was his confidence and direct approach to footy. The second thing was his lack of real top end speed. He was very keen to hit the “tough” line as players call it when a player is not afraid to angle slightly in to meet the ball knowing that he could very well get hit very hard as he catches the late and short ball. And despite his top speed he could find the line – often; physical and with footy smarts.

Pretty soon after preseason preparation started we all got to see that there was a whole lot more to James McManus. Confidence and consistency are very much traits in his character and, I am guessing, in his upbringing. He impressed every day in that preseason with his determination and physical toughness meeting all the standards expected and then putting his own personal mark on his preparation for what he hoped was a debut in the NRL Knights at some point.

He made it an easy choice, got his first shot in Round One of 2007 and it was on the right wing if I remember correctly. Stretching my memory a little further, James was hoping for a centre spot, as most guys do. Most think it offers more involvement in the game (WRONG), you get more carries (WRONG) and it’s a more prestigious position (WRONG, in my eyes at least).

In a big sign of what role his positive attitude was going to play in his career, he accepted the opportunity offered and decided to be the best he could be in that position. Not only that but he worked hard in practice at developing the finer skills of both left and right sided play in attack, defence and particularly fielding kicks.

James displayed a tremendous work ethic and durability in his first 3 seasons of NRL at the Knights. He never missed a training session and never missed a chance to practice his kick catching. He practiced catching at the end of every single session and I don’t mean just a few to catch the coach’s eye. He was into what the experts in learning skills call deep learning. *

Those same people talk about the Mozart theory – the “genius” and “gifted” childhood music maestro completed more than 10,000 hours of learning and practice. No-one ever calculated those hours the young and already pretty competent outside back managed but he racked up an extraordinary total. All he did involved quality practice especially on catching and fielding kicks of all types, both left and right side.

He played 60 plus NRL matches off the bat! And not one bad one amongst them. He put tremendous numbers up week after week for the quantity and quality of his wing play. Any error committed was quickly addressed with coaches or senior players and practiced thoroughly. Video sessions to learn more about positional play were also positive opportunities and resulted in a player with a very sound knowledge of footy generally, wing play in specific and a very deep awareness of his own game.

He wore a Blues jersey as an early reward but as footy does, it also threw up another hurdle with major injury; a problem not insurmountable for a disciplined footy professional.

James arrives at this next representative opportunity after racking up many more hours of practice I am sure. He has also bolted on more seasons of consistent performances in a team rating as middle of the road for the most part. He has not had one centre partner to feed him and build a stellar combination but a myriad of guys who have not affected his game negatively.

So you can see why I was very happy for James and NSW chances when he got his second chance. He is certainly the right choice for this huge task of shutting down Inglis and Boyd.
Origin wingers require:
rugged tacklers – tick
great defensive decision makers – tick
great anticipation of opposition kicks – tick
great jumping and strength in the air to complete catches – tick
great balance and agility to field grubber kicks – tick
great yardage gainer especially out of dummy half with few errors – tick
good finisher of attacking chances – tick (but short range only)
catching attacking kicks for tries – tick
emotional control – tick
confident and quality communication – tick

So what NSW has at in the ranks with Jimmy McManus is an experienced, in-form (NRL leading try scorer), specialist winger who knows his own game deeply. Having never been the standout junior player James worked hard to be excellent under pressure at what he was already good at. He will go hard at what is required of him and stay in his areas of expertise. These are the most solid of foundations which gives him the best possible chance to produce competency in all areas under extreme pressure.

I can’t wait to see him get on with his business again on the game’s biggest stage. A richly deserved opportunity for one of the most professional players in our sport.

*If you are keen to know more about this read The Talent Code or The Gold Mine Effect