KURRI Kurri X-factor Nathan Ross hopes to follow in Josh Mantellato’s footsteps by completing the leap from the Newcastle Rugby League to the Knights NRL side this season.
The 25-year-old, known as ‘‘White Lightning’’, agreed to terms and is expected to sign a second-tier contract with the Knights on Wednesday.
Throughout the second half of last season’s local league competition, Ross was in electrifying form for the Bulldogs as they made their march to the grand final from fifth spot.
His speed and elusive ball-running made him a favourite at Kurri Sportsground and arguably the most lethal player in the competition.
Over the summer Ross trained with the Knights after an invitation from Knights NSW Cup coach Rick Stone. Ross played at fullback in Newcastle’s 32-4 trial loss to the Sydney Roosters at Morry Breen Oval on February 15 and again on February 23 in the trial against Canberra Raiders feeder club Mounties.
During the Mounties match, he suffered a broken jaw, which he had wired together in surgery last week.
At the moment, he is eating through a syringe but he is expected to return for the round-three game on March 23 against North Sydney at St John Oval.
‘‘Round three I’ll be back straight in at fullback and then I’ll hopefully be pushing my case for an NRL berth this year,’’ Ross said.
‘‘It might only take one injury or Origin time.
‘‘If James [McManus] or Aku [Uate] get in [Origin], they don’t really know who’s next in line – that’s the mail I’m getting from them anyway.
‘‘So whoever is performing will be stepping up, kind of what Josh Mantellato did last year.’’
Mantellato joined the Knights from then Newcastle Rugby League club Wyong in 2012.
After he became the leading pointscorer in the NSW Cup, he made his NRL debut against South Sydney in round 12 last year.
The towering winger scored a try and kicked three goals before a cracked rib spoiled a dream debut.
Ross said he had taken plenty of inspiration from Mantellato, who will be a rival for any opportunities in the Knights backline whenever injuries or representative commitments hit.
‘‘Josh and I are really good friends and did pre-season together last year with the Knights,’’ he said.
‘‘He just came from nowhere by performing week in week out in NSW Cup.’’
Outside the Knights top fullback Darius Boyd and first-choice wingers McManus and Uate, their depth in those positions diminished after the departure of Kevin Naiqama (Penrith), Peter Mata’utia (St George Illawarra) and Siuatonga Likiliki (Gold Coast) and Anthony Quinn’s retirement due to an eye injury.
Ross played a handful of NSW Cup games for the Knights last season and previously played in the Queensland Cup with the Burleigh Bears.
Stone had wanted Ross to finish last season in the NSW Cup but he chose to complete the season with the Bulldogs.
‘‘He [Stone] really thinks this could well be my breakthrough year this season,’’ Ross said.