THE game that ended Rick Stone’s coaching career with the Knights now appears likely to claim a second victim – Newcastle winger James McManus.
Ten weeks after a distressed McManus was helped from the field, six minutes into the 52-6 hammering from the Rabbitohs, Knights officials remain concerned that may have been his last game.
McManus was dazed and disoriented from an apparently innocuous hit early in the proceedings at ANZ Stadium, but his concussion was largely overshadowed by Stone’s sacking less than 48 hours later.
That the NSW State of Origin winger was ruled out of Newcastle’s next game, against St George Illawarra, was no surprise, given the NRL’s stringent protocols regarding concussion.
When he was overlooked for the following game, against the Sydney Roosters, it became apparent this was perhaps no standard head knock.
The 29-year-old proceeded to sit out Newcastle’s last six games of the season as he underwent a battery of tests and scans.
If there has been any positive news to emerge from those procedures, it has not been made public.
To the contrary, it is understood retirement is the most likely option for the three-game NSW Origin representative, who debuted for Newcastle in 2007 and has made 166 NRL appearances, scoring 72 tries.
Newcastle chief executive Matt Gidley told the Herald this week that McManus, who is under contract for another season after signing a lucrative three-year deal in 2013, was under no pressure to make a decision.
‘‘James is still seeking advice from the concussion experts,’’ Gidley said.
‘‘When that process is complete, we’ll be guided by our advice from his doctors.
‘‘I know they’re taking it really seriously, so whatever they think is the best thing for James, we’ll go down that path.
‘‘When the doctors have all the information, we’ll sit down and discuss the appropriate course of action.’’
New Knights coach Nathan Brown, who was himself forced into an early retirement by a neck injury, said McManus had a lot to consider.
‘‘As you learn as you get older, footy is a wonderful game, but there is a lot more to life ahead of you,’’ Brown said. ‘‘I think his health is the No.1 priority for himself and the club at the moment.’’
Gidley said the Knights were fortunate to have access to the expertise of Dr Andrew Gardner, a Newcastle-based clinical neuropsychologist, and Hunter Medical Research Institute Professor Chris Levi.
‘‘They’re brilliant,’’ Gidley said.
‘‘They’re two of the leading experts in the world and they’re great supporters of the club.’’
McManus spent 12 minutes in the head bin in the season-opener against the Warriors this year but returned to play out the game and played the following week.
He suffered a head clash against Gold Coast in round three that ruled him out of the following game against Penrith with what was reported at the time to be an infected eye socket.
He then played in 14 consecutive games for Newcastle, as well as representing Country Origin, before his fateful incident against Souths.
Meanwhile, Newcastle remain hopeful of retaining NSW Cup centre Kerrod Holland, who is understood to have attracted interest from several rival clubs.
Holland scored 18 tries to help the Knights win their first reserve-grade premiership in 20 years.
‘‘We’ve certainly made an offer and would like to continue his development here,’’ Gidley said of the 23-year-old. ‘‘I’m not aware of whether other clubs have shown interest.
‘‘We wouldn’t be offering him a top-25 contract at this stage, but I think it’s a pretty competitive offer.’’