Tears for gran after Staggs’ super debut
IT’S the remarkable story behind the most enduring image of the rugby league season to date.
The raw emotion of Kotoni Staggs’ NRL debut with Brisbane was there for the world to see when he embraced his family post-match.
Tears flowed freely as Staggs cuddled his mother, Leanne, and uncle, Trent, only minutes after scoring a try in a memorable maiden first-grade match.
You could have forgiven the rising forward for making the special moment about himself, but his sole focus was on his grandmother, who had to be rushed to a Brisbane hospital due to a throat infection.
As the woman that raised him in the Central West town of Wellington while his moth- er was in and out of jail, Dawn Staggs means the world to young Kotoni.
“That’s why when Kotoni came and gave us a cuddle after the match, the first words he said was, ‘where is Nana, I want my nan,” uncle Trent said. “Dawn isn’t well and she went to hospital in Brisbane. She has an infected throat.
“Kotoni went and saw her after recovery on Saturday and thankfully she is feeling better now. But it was really emotional, because she raised him while his mother was in and out of jail trying to sort herself out.
“His father also lived away in America and didn’t get in contact until he was 17.”
Fuelled by the challenges of the past, Staggs has worked hard to earn a start under Wayne Bennett at Brisbane.
At Suncorp Stadium on Fri- day night, his sacrifices paid off as he helped the Broncos beat the Roosters with a brilliant four-pointer and a try-assist.
Watching on from the stands, Trent couldn’t have been prouder to see Staggs star playing against fellow Wellington product Blake Ferguson.
“It was amazing,” he said of Staggs, who has excelled for Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup this season, scoring five tries and kicking 32 goals to be the competition’s leading pointscorer.
“But I was scared all game and a bit nervous. He has trained hard to get to where he is, but I didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
Staggs was also well supported by his junior club Wellington, with 25 former teammates, friends and coaches driving 12 hours north to watch him. Cowboys captaincoach Aidan Ryan was among the throng of supporters decked out in Wellington jerseys to mark the occasion.
Ryan coached Staggs in a Wellington under-18 side that snapped the club’s two-decade premiership drought in 2016.
He also lived with the talented back, so the long drive to Brisbane was never going to stop him from witnessing his mate’s NRL debut.
“It was worth the travel to witness that — it was awesome,” Ryan said.
“We were all hoping someone would get injured early so Kotoni would get on.
“He told us Wayne Bennett said he’d only get a few minutes in the second half, so it worked out well in the end.
“He scored on debut — it was something special.”
Kotoni Staggs breaks through the Roosters’ defence, and (inset) hugs family members after an NRL debut to remember.