KNIGHTS legend Adam MacDougall believes his former backline partner James McManus is at the peak of his powers and can clinch a NSW Origin berth in his 100th NRL game tonight.
McManus will rack up a century of appearances for the Knights in the round-10 clash with North Queensland at Hunter Stadium, five years after he made his top-grade debut outside MacDougall in round one, 2007.
McManus played his lone Origin for NSW in the 2009 series opener, before injuries intervened to restrict him to just eight club games in the ensuing 18 months.
But those dark days now seem long behind the Scotland-born and Northern Territory-raised 26-year-old, who represented Country Origin three weeks ago. He is now competing with the likes of Brett Morris, Jarryd Hayne, David Williams and Blake Ferguson for the vacancy on NSW’s left edge.
MacDougall, who retired at the end of last season after 158 games for the Knights, predicted that McManus would come into strong contention for a NSW recall, especially if shines against the Cowboys.
‘‘Jimmy’s been playing some great footy,’’ MacDougall said. ‘‘I reckon he’s in career-best form. [NSW coach] Ricky Stuart doesn’t need anyone else telling him who to pick in his team, but I’m fairly sure Jimmy will be on his short-list.
‘‘He’s matured as a player, probably because of that adversity and the injuries he went through a couple of years ago. I think he deserves another opportunity for NSW, and if they pick him he won’t let anyone down.’’
MacDougall said he could tell from McManus’s debut season that he was destined for a long career in the NRL.
‘‘He was just a really professional kid who had the willingness to work hard and make sacrifices,’’ MacDougall said. ‘‘He showed his character when he had that run of injuries. He’s bounced back from that and he’s playing better than ever.
‘‘I’m really happy to see him get his 100 games up. Nobody deserves it more.’’
McManus is the first player in Knights history to register his century playing exclusively on the wing.
MacDougall, Robbie O’Davis, Timana Tahu and Anthony Quinn all reached triple figures but played other positions as well as flanker, and 1997 grand final hero Darren Albert played in 89 games for Newcastle.
A centre in his junior days, McManus admitted he would love to move closer to the action as his career progresses.
‘‘When you get to the NRL, I think you’re happy to get on the park,’’ he said.
‘‘But centre is something I do play and I really enjoyed playing a few years ago.
‘‘I think in the 20s and reserve grade I had Aku [Uate] outside me and we were really loving things ... I’d love to play centre again but at the moment I’m really happy doing my job on the wing.’’
McManus will have family and friends flying in from Darwin to celebrate tonight’s milestone.
‘‘I love it here in Newcastle and to play in 100 games is something I’m really proud of,’’ he said.
With regards to Origin, McManus suggested he would be best to do his talking on the field.
‘‘If I go out there thinking about rep footy, I’m not concentrating on the little things I have to do,’’ he said. ‘‘When I do those little things, I play well.’’