Kyle Flanagan could tell by the smile on his father Shane's face at fulltime that the former Sharks coach was proud of his effort to lead the team to a stunning 20-18 defeat of Melbourne at Pointsbet Stadium on Friday night.
With Kyle named in the Cronulla starting side for the first time, Shane watched from a private box in the Andrew Ettingshausen Stand as the 20-year-old playmaker set up a vital try for second-rower Briton Nikora as he took control of the game just before halftime.
After going to the interval with the scores level at 12-12, the undermanned Sharks ran the Storm off their feet by shifting the ball from side to side and kicking to the corners in an almost faultless second half display.
“I saw dad after the game, it was pretty special,” Flanagan said. “He had a big smile on his face and I felt like he was proud of me.”
It was a stunning performance by the rookie, who was told just a week earlier by coach John Morris to be patient as he watched many of his former junior team-mates playing for the Sharks while he waited for a chance.
Flanagan places it for Nikora
A hamstring injury to Kiwi five-eighth Shaun Johnson provided Flanagan with that opportunity and he made the most of it in a side boasting six players with less than 10 NRL appearances each.
"He has jumped straight in and steered us to victory," Morris said. “On a slippery, greasy night we spoke about kicking early behind their edges and it was good to get a couple of repeat sets off them.
“Kyle picked his moment nice there to double it up and get that try for Brit. That was a pivotal moment for us to go into the break at 12-12 and start the second half with a bit of belief."
Flanagan’s combination with Nikora and centre Bronson Xerri troubled the Melbourne left edge defence and he said they would only improve in coming weeks.
“There was no pressure on us, all the pressure was on them,” Flanagan said of the Storm. “It was a massive opportunity for the young guys and we couldn’t wait to get out there.
Morris provides update on injured stars
“The combos were good, we played together in the juniors and I know Brit [Nikora] and I know Bronson [Xerri] inside and out, so it is good having them next to me and we will be looking to play some good footy in the next few weeks.
“Coming up against Melbourne we wanted to move the ball, they are too good if you just run one out so we had an idea to move the ball and kick to the corners.
“Obviously it was a bit wet out there so I had that mentality to get repeat sets and play our tough footy. I got a repeat set there and the next one we got a try off it so I was pretty stoked.”
Morris faces some selection headaches in coming weeks as star fullback Matt Moylan is due to return in the Round 10 clash with Manly, while Johnson could be back for the following match against St George Illawarra.
Injured representative forwards Wade Graham and Aaron Woods should be fit soon after that.
“I’ve got great and belief in them, that is why I have been able to hand out five debuts in the first seven weeks," Morris said of the rookies. "It was a bit of a baptism of fire at first but now they are starting to show this is where they belong and I have got 100 per cent confidence in them to perform at this level.
“They are all first graders, they belong in this team so there is going to be some big calls when the other boys are back.”