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Luke Keary writes... Why I'm blown away by Flanagan

After nine games of first grade, I was coming off the bench at South Sydney.

I averaged around half an hour of footy in my 2013 debut season, and often touched the ball less than 10 times a game as I found my feet at NRL level.

Cooper Cronk was the same at Melbourne almost 10 years earlier. He started just once in his first 21 games before becoming one of the greatest halfbacks of all time.

More than once this summer, Coops and I have had to stop and remind ourselves that Kyle Flanagan has still only played nine NRL games. 

He is so far ahead of where we both were at that stage of our careers, it's not funny.

The first game

Kyle plays his first NRL game as a Rooster on Saturday night at Penrith after debuting with the Sharks in 2018 and adding another eight games last year.

I thought his first outing in red, white and blue, our World Club Challenge win over St Helens last month, was outstanding.

That was an extremely physical game in tough, typically English conditions, with Victor Radley squaring up to Alex Walmsley and Lindsay Collins's collision from one of the kick-offs up there with the biggest I've seen.

Panthers v Roosters - Round 1

Not an easy game for a young halfback. But Kyle did his job and beyond. 

He didn't overplay his hand, kicked and defended well and ended up combining with Joey Manu for two tries.

For a 21-year-old on a big stage, that was really impressive.

Again, what we're asking Kyle to do is beyond what Cooper or I could have dreamed of in our first full seasons of first grade.

But just like that vocal St Helens crowd, miserable English weather and mean Pommy forwards, not much seems to faze him.

How we’ll combine

We're not asking Kyle to control an entire game because he is still just a kid.

But he will slot straight into Cooper's traditional No.7 role. Kyle is what I see as a first receiver-style player. And he's got some of the attributes you see in Coops. 

Kyle's a very square player, he's very direct and he makes good decisions at the line. He's got a good passing game, and a good kicking game.

Robinson praises finer points of Flanagan's attack

My game is probably more of a second receiver-style approach now. I like to get the ball a bit wider, I can play off that with James Tedesco, I can work with our centres a bit more. 

It's nearly a perfect fit in terms of what we lost with Cooper, we've gained a similar sort of player with Kyle, a much younger one but still.

A legend’s legacy

Coops is still around the club as our halves coach, and is coming in once a week to work with our playmakers, especially Kyle.

It's been more than two years since Cooper arrived at our Moore Park training set-up, and I never could have dreamed the things he would impart.

The way he looks at the game is so different to anyone I've ever worked with and I couldn't put a price on his influence, it's something that will stay with me for life.

When he first signed and moved from Melbourne I can't lie, there was a slight sense of 'what's just happened? What's going on?'

In 2017 we'd almost made the grand final and I was preparing for another pre-season with Mitch Pearce.

And then it's probably fair to say the whole team was flipped on its head. That's kind of inevitable when you get a new No.7. 

The halfback is so important to your team's philosophy, there's adaptation both ways, and I think everyone saw the adjustment period in those first few months of 2018.

It wasn't smooth sailing the entire time, but then anything worth achieving isn't always going to be smooth.

Now we've got the same challenge with Kyle Flanagan stepping into that No.7 jersey.

And it’s exciting to think of where he can get to given he's already looking the part, still with just nine games to his name.