Flanagan's time in the
sun

He is the fun loving, pig shooting country cowboy who will be out to hunt down bigger opposition than normal this Sunday.

Nineteen-year-old Stuart Flanagan will play just his second first grade game for the Wests Tigers when he confronts the Melbourne Storm at Leichhardt Oval in round four of the NRL premiership.

Flanagan made an impressive first grade debut in round three against the Warriors in Christchurch. His efforts coming off the bench were enough for coach Tim Sheens to move him to the starting side.

It has been a rapid rise for Flanagan, who only got serious about playing rugby league at the age of 15. Fours years on, his name sits next to the number 99 on the Wests Tigers players honour roll at the Concord Oval headquarters.

Raised in Cooma, Flanagan began his career with the local club in the under-6s with older brother Darren.

Rugby league was just something he played for fun, in between going hunting for pigs and trying to catch wild horses with his uncles.

?I used to be a bit of a cowboy when I was young, going to the rodeos. Footy didn?t mean that much to me,?? Flanagan recalls.

His mum, Edie, knew her son had a touch of talent about him. A scholarship to begin year 7 at renowned rugby league school, St Gregorys College at Campbelltown, confirmed her thoughts.

?Mum knew I had some talent, as did Darren, but he didn?t stick it through. Darren?s a big boy who played in the front row. He loves a hit-up,?? Flanagan said.

?I didn?t really get home sick to about Year 10. There was a three to four week period there where I was pretty bad.

?I played half-back for St Gregorys in the under 14s and under 15s but one of my coaches moved me to hooker when I was in year nine.

?I enjoyed half-back. If I had to go there today, I wouldn?t go as well as Princey but I would have a go. But I like hooker.??

After missing selection for Western Suburbs Magpies in the Harold Matthews Cup as a hooker, Flanagan found his feet in the SG Ball competition. Suddenly his rugby league career was taking shape. Today, there is a nice mould.

?A lot of people doubted I would make it to first grade. I used to enjoy going out with the boys and having a bit of fun,?? Flanagan admitted.

?To be honest I thought last year was the end of my footy career. I played SG Ball and Jersey Flegg for the Magpies and then my mum got sick, so I went back home.

?When I came back, there wasn?t any real need for me at Wests so I ended up playing for Narellan Jets in the Group 6 competition. I then ended up playing one Premier League game for the Wests Magpies.??

An end of season talk with Wests Tigers recruitment manager Warren McDonnell lifted Flanagan?s spirits and gave him hope. It then led to Flanagan being included in the inaugural Wests Tigers Apprentice Program with six other talented rookies.

The program sees players train three days a week with the Wests Tigers squad in between study and work commitments.

As he prepares for his first run-on game at Leichhardt Oval, Flanagan can only imagine what the folks back at Cooma will be thinking.

Members of the Flanagan family will make the trip up to Sydney for the game. Edie was flown over to Christchurch last week by the Wests Tigers to watch her son make his debut.

?My Dad only told me last week that he remembers going up from Cooma to Sydney watch the first grade competition. He never thought that one of his sons would be playing in the NRL one day,?? Flanagan said.

?I probably would have laughed at Dad had he told me four weeks ago I would be in first grade. The moment I got selected, I had a grin from ear to ear. I wanted to tell everyone but I didn?t. I just told my parents and they were very excited.

?By the time Mum and Dad found out, I think the whole of Cooma found out. Word travels pretty fast in a small town. A lot of people I haven?t spoken to for a long time have contacted me to wish me well.

?When I was a kid, my brother and I use to grab the footy and have a game in the ad breaks on the television game. When it came back on, we stopped and were glued to the screen again. To now think I am part of a televised game and to be one of the players is amazing.??

Flanagan is enjoying his moment in the sun. He knows that star hooker Robbie Farah will return soon from a broken hand.

?I just want to play good football in the next few weeks. I know Robbie is going to come back into the team because he has proven himself,?? Flanagan said.

?I just want to do the best I can while I have my time and play well enough not be overlooked later on.??

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