Kyle Flanagan overcomes tough off-season to eye Cronulla Sharks' No.7 jersey

Eye on the future: Talented young Sharks half Kyle Flanagan plans on cracking a regular first grade spot this season. Picture: John Veage
Eye on the future: Talented young Sharks half Kyle Flanagan plans on cracking a regular first grade spot this season. Picture: John Veage

Kyle Flanagan has endured a uniquely difficult and testing off-season.

While the NRL's salary cap investigation into the Cronulla Sharks affected many people, Flanagan was in one of the toughest positions of all.

To Flanagan it wasn't just Shane Flanagan, Cronulla's 2016 premiership-winning coach, who had been deregistered indefinitely.

It was his father. The man who had helped him grow as a player and a person.

But the highly-rated 20-year-old has got through an arduous summer with the help of those around him. 

"[Pre-season] was good. Fitness wise and physically wise I haven't missed a beat. Obviously there was stuff going on off the field. But when I come to training I train as hard as I can and I'm always trying to improve. Pre-season has been great for me and I'm ready for round one," he said.

"At times [it was distracting]. When it was the main headline it was pretty tough. Coming to training and there was cameras and that around. I enjoy training and when I'm on the field it goes out of my mind. When I go home there was some tough times there at home. But when I come to training I put it to bed and train hard.

"It was pretty tough. Sometimes you go home and the family is a bit upset. It affected my sisters and my mum a bit. I guess that motivates me more to come to work and train hard and really succeed in the NRL.

"[Dad is] good. Obviously in the tough times it was pretty tough. But he's a strong bloke and doesn't show too much. He's going good at the moment, he's moved on and he'll definitely be back.

"I remember the day after it happened Gal, [Matt Moylan], Aaron Woods even who is new to the club, all flicked me a text. Which I probably really needed at the time. Just the support there from the boys. When I come to training plenty of the older boys showed their support for me which is great. I know if I have their support it gives me confidence."

Shane Flanagan was at Shark Park to watch his son in his first pre-season trial against Manly last month, Cronulla's first game under new head coach John Morris.

Flanagan junior and Morris have plenty of history, with Flanagan having graduated through Cronulla's junior representative teams and elite development program into the under-20s team, where he won the 2017 minor premiership under Morris.

Flanagan has a number of goals for the season written on the back of his bedroom door, so every morning he wakes up they are there staring him in the face.

One of which is to play at least 10 first grade games, adding to his one NRL start made in round 24 last season when he showed that it would hardly be a jump given his classy display.

He has not hidden his desire to earn the black, white and blue No.7 jersey from premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend. The signing of New Zealand international Shaun Johnson could also be a hurdle to Flanagan's desire to crack a regular place in first grade.

But Flanagan, who signed a two-year contract extension in December that will keep him at the club until at least the end of the 2021 season, is firm in his plan to one day lead the club he has grown up at.

"I'm just going to keep building brick by brick. Each NRL game that comes I'm going to take it with both hands and rip in. Just one by one hopefully it starts to build up and I can build a career," he said.

"Short-term people might think [Johnson's signing is] a road block. But long-term having him possibly next to me in the halves would be unreal. Learning off him every day is obviously going to be a positive for me. That's the way I'm looking at it.

"He plays a bit different to me. I'm definitely thinking long-term, learning off him. It's a long career hopefully but short-term I'm definitely just going to focus on my role in the team and hopefully get a start.

"I want to play first grade here at the Sharks and be the halfback. I remember when I re-signed here I wanted to get it know I want to be a leader of this club. I see what Gal does for the community, how much me means to the community and how much work he puts in behind the scenes.

"I really want that and to be part of leadership here, be the halfback here at the club. There is interest out there so I'm just going to have to take 2019 as it comes and if the opportunity doesn't come around here I'll have to see what happens." 

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