James McManus getting back to Origin best

JAMES McManus reckons he is playing the best football of his career. Better than in 2009, when he made his lone State of Origin appearance for NSW.

And statistics support his confident self-appraisal.

In his seven games for Newcastle this year, the reliable flanker is averaging more tries, line breaks and metres per game than in any previous season.

His impressive form was rewarded last week with selection for Country Origin, and in the 24-22 loss to City he produced an error-free game which included a clean break and 126 metres in attack.

Asked yesterday if he felt he was playing as well as he was three years ago, when he made his Origin debut and then succumbed a week later to a season-ending broken ankle, McManus was unequivocal.

‘‘I think I’m probably playing better than that,’’ he said.

‘‘But there are other blokes that have gotten their start and are playing great footy as well.

‘‘Rep footy is really the icing on the cake.

‘‘But playing well for the club is something I’m proud of.’’

McManus said he was ‘‘pretty happy’’ with his contribution for Country, given his limited attacking opportunities.

He has three club rounds, starting with Monday night’s home game against Penrith, to state his case for higher honours.

Knights teammate Akuila Uate appears a certain selection on NSW’s right wing, leaving McManus to compete with the likes of Jarryd Hayne, Brett Morris and David Williams for the vacancy on the opposite flank.

‘‘Off the back of a good game playing for Country, I just have to keep playing well for the next few weeks,’’ he said.

‘‘I’m not even thinking about Origin.

‘‘We’ve got a fair job to do here for the Knights.

‘‘We haven’t started the year as well as we wanted, and we want to play much better here.’’

McManus said Penrith, after consecutive 30-0 hammerings from Manly and Wests Tigers, would be ‘‘desperate’’ and Newcastle would need to match their intensity.

Given that the Panthers will have four former Knights in their squad – Luke Walsh, Clint Newton, Brad Tighe and Cameron Ciraldo – McManus said they would have no shortage of motivation.

‘‘Ciro was a great bloke and he’s a good friend of mine, and it’s good to see him going well at Penrith,’’ McManus said.

‘‘I’m sure he’ll be coming with a point to prove, and I think Brad Tighe as well.

‘‘I’m sure they’ll be out to play well in what is their old home town.’’

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