Mark Flanagan, 22, emerged as a future talent at the back end of last season, when he broke into the Wigan Warriors first team; making 11 appearances from June onwards. It was the loss of Gareth Hock (to a two year ban for drugs misuse) that brought about Flanagan’s chance – which he took with both hands.
Most watchers could have predicted a big future for Mark, but few would have predicted his off-season move to Australia, to chance his arm in the NRL with the Wests Tigers.
A few months later, and the gamble has certainly paid off, with Flanagan featuring in all 3 of the Tigers games so far. His stock is steadily rising, and he is being noticed by journalists, fans and co-players alike. He played the full 80 minutes in the Tigers 32-44 loss to the Sydney Roosters last week, in sweltering heat, and earned the players’ player award for his performance.
And it seems to be his hard-working nature that has impressed his colleagues. Fellow Englishman, Gareth Ellis said: “What has impressed me the most about Mark is how he trains. His fitness levels are right up there and his attitude is great. He is one of those players you look forward to playing alongside.”
It seems coach Tim Sheens too – who will look to employ Flanagan mostly as a replacement – has been pleased with his work ethic: “He has really impressed me with his attitude,” Sheens said. “Mark is a great defender and he will bring that off the bench. He carries the ball well too.”
Flanagan’s defensive graft was certainly on display again this weekend, as he made an astonishing 31 tackles in just 49 minutes on the park, in Wests’ 23-12 defeat of the much-fancied Parramatta Eels. He also contributed in attack, providing a clever pass from which Benji Marshall raced over, shortly after the re-start.
Flanagan’s success – although not far into the season – seems to have alerted NRL bosses to the potential of young British players, with a mass influx predicted over the next few seasons. Flanagan himself sees no reason why most emerging British talents can’t succeed in Australia.
“There’s a lot of talented kids back home and I think the conditions over here, and that the coaches over here are that bit better, would bring out their best,” Flanagan said after Friday’s win. “I recommend the switch to Australia to them because in the short time I’ve been here I’ve become a better player. I came over with an open mind to get stuck in and to see where it took me.”
A British exodus is perhaps all the more likely, as the strong Australian dollar and renowned Aussie lifestyle, combined with the chance to prove themselves in the strongest league competition in the world, makes for a very attractive proposition to the average rain-soaked pom. If such an exodus does happen, then perhaps Mark Flannagan is the trail-blazer.