Hooker George Flanagan tells TOM COATES of his delight at being back at Bradford Bulls and his gratitude to Hunslet and Batley Bulldogs
ON Sunday, March 11, George Flanagan realised a childhood dream, almost ten years after it was taken away from him.
The 31-year-old hooker savoured the sweet moment after scoring a try to help hometown club Bradford Bulls to an emphatic victory at Keighley Cougars.
In 2008, Flanagan was released by Bradford without playing a first-team match, and as late as February of this year, he was planning to finish his career with Hunslet.
However, things were to take a different course.
“We had just played against a Leeds Rhinos Academy side in a friendly when the director of rugby said the coaching staff needed to have a word with me,” he explains.
“I was gobsmacked to hear that Bradford wanted to sign me.
“It was the second year of my contract with Hunslet and I thought I’d spend the rest of my career there, but that shook everything up.
“I never wanted to leave Bradford in the first place, so to get the opportunity to go back was just too big to turn down.”
Flanagan was Hunslet’s captain, and the decision to leave a club he’d enjoyed three great seasons with was not taken lightly.
“Even though it was something I really wanted to do, it was still an extremely tough decision,” he admits.
“They did everything for me, they made me captain, and I hope that I repaid them for their faith in me with my efforts on the pitch.
“I can’t speak highly enough of the leadership at the club and how well they dealt with the move. I’m very grateful to them for letting it happen.”
Flanagan’s Bulls bow came a full 17 years after he’d first signed papers with the one-time world champions.
“I played for Dudley Hill in a cup final against West Hull at Featherstone and the scouts approached me,” he recalls.
“I was invited down for a couple of training sessions and it all kicked on from there and I came through the scholarship system.
“I played under guys like Daryl Shelford, Paul Medley and Mark Robertson.
“I actually started off on the wing, then went into the halves, then Bradford turned me into a hooker.
“There were some true athletes and true coaches involved at Bradford during that era.
“I remember rubbing shoulders with guys like Steve McNamara and Brian Noble and it was a great experience for a young player.”
Flanagan describes the Bulls’ decision to let him go as “a kick in the guts”, and adds: ‘I had a chat with Steve McNamara, who was the first-team coach, and with Basil Richards, the Academy coach, and they told me I was free to speak to other clubs.
“I’d set my future on staying with Bradford, so it was tough to take.”
Flanagan signed for Batley Bulldogs, for whom he was to make a Championship Grand Final appearance and play under current Bulls boss John Kear.
“I had a chat with (then Batley coach) Gary Thornton and (assistant) Joe Berry, who is my uncle, and I ended up signing there,” says Flanagan.
“It was a bit of a shock to the system initially, as I was playing against fully-grown men after previously being used to the Academy.
“But I ended up getting two tries on my debut for Batley in the Boxing Day derby and I have a full scrapbook of memories from my time there.
“I had my ups and downs, but the coaching staff and leadership at the club were always good to me.”
A drugs ban and a broken leg scuppered Flanagan’s progress at different stages of his career, but the determined hooker displayed a tenacity which reflected his playing style to overcome those setbacks and forge forward.
“I had good spells with Dewsbury and Featherstone too, and it was a great challenge for me at Fev with them being a top Championship side at the time,” he explains.
“I broke my leg during the latter stages of my time at Featherstone, which was my first serious injury, and so it was devastating.
“I then got told I’d be released as they’d brought somebody else in at nine.
“It was hard to be given the news while still on crutches, but I was very lucky that Hunslet came in from me.
“I’m very grateful to Hunslet for the time I had with them, and out of all the clubs I’ve played for, that’s where my heart is.
‘They took me when I was injured and helped me through my recovery. They showed great belief in me.
‘I had three great seasons there and plenty of ups and downs, and I was glad to be able to help them win the League 1 Shield at the end of last year.’
Now back at Bradford on a two-year contract, Flanagan would love nothing more than to help start the Bulls’ on the path back to the big time.
‘My debut was incredible and I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” he smiles.
‘The build-up to the Keighley game, the fact it was a derby and that the two teams hadn’t played each other in the league in more than 40 years made it even more special.
‘To run out and see the crowd, even just in the warm-up, was sensational.
‘I was able to get over for a sneaky try and they were all singing my name. It was an amazing buzz and something I’d dreamed of for so long.
‘But it’s just the start of the journey and I hope I can play a role in their rebuilding process for at least a few years to come.
‘There are some amazing players at the club, including some superb youngsters, and I’ve been made to feel very welcome.
‘We’ve had a decent start to the season, but we’re not getting too carried away.
‘This division is already proving very strong, particularly in the top half, and teams will be desperate to knock us off our pedestal.
‘It’ll be a tough campaign, but I’m used to playing in League 1 from the last couple of years, and my aim is to help put Bradford on the right track towards being back where they belong.
‘They’re a big club and a big brand. They deserve to be up there.’
This feature was first published in Rugby League World magazine, Issue 444 (April 2018) pictured. If you enjoyed it, why not consider taking out a subscription to read many more great features every month covering the whole world of Rugby League, from the grassroots to the international game and all points in between?