Tears for gran af­ter Staggs’ su­per de­but

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NRL -

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.

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