For somebody who’s barely played 50 NRL games, Kyle Flanagan has had to wear plenty of hats already.

He was a record-setting pointscorer on a gun junior side at Cronulla and counted as a prospect of note before he was thrown into the fire as an ill-fated replacement for Cooper Cronk at the Roosters.

Even his time at Canterbury — where he lobbed after his year in Bondi as he chased a fresh start — has been all over the road.

Flanagan was meant to be the cornerstone of a rebuild, then he copped the heat when the good times never came, before clawing his way back into first grade where he quietly put together a competent season in 2022.

Yes, Kyle Flanagan has been plenty of things in his eventful 62-game career but, according to him, he’s never had the chance to just be Kyle Flanagan and — with the Bulldogs relying on the 24-year old to steer the ship as they chase a finals berth — that’s all he wants to be.

A man looks to pass the ball during a rugby league match
Kyle Flanagan was a quiet success story for the Bulldogs last year.  (Getty Images: Mark Kolbe)

“I just need to go out there and be Kyle Flanagan. I don’t think I’ve shown consistently in first grade what Kyle Flanagan looks like. In previous times I’ve tried to go out there and be someone else or replicate somebody else’s game,” Flanagan said.

“The focus for me, this pre-season, is to be Kyle Flanagan, play to what his strengths are and that’s directing the footy team around and being a controlled head out there.”

Whether Flanagan can find that control will prove crucial to Canterbury’s chances of making the finals for the first time since 2016.

For many, they’re a popular pick to do just that but questions still remain if Flanagan is the man to guide them to the promised land.

The club’s pursuit of Mitchell Moses and the signing of Brisbane whiz-kid Karl Olapau means the jury is still out on Flanagan, but he’s still firmly set on becoming the club’s long-term playmaker.

“Being on the rugby league rollercoaster, you have to be a driven person to come back from poor performances or setbacks,” Flanagan said.

“I like to think, because of my upbringing and the way I like to train hard, [this things have] given me that mindset to go out there and prove people wrong.

“I want to prove myself right. I’m looking to take my game to the next level and move into the next part of my career.”

Bulldogs old and new have noticed the difference in Flanagan as he prepares for his third season in blue and white.

There will always be pressure on him, because he is Shane Flanagan’s son and the halfback for a big Sydney club, but the club’s improved roster has ensured the spotlight on Flanagan is not as scorching as it once was.

“Because I was in England, I didn’t really know him. I just saw articles and what was said in the media and how he was copping the brunt of a lot of the losses. He knows that comes with being a half at a big club, but the guy I see out there every day is not that guy,” returning club favourite Josh Reynolds said.

“He’s in a really good place and I’m confident because I know what he’s going to do and the boys are the same.

“I take a lot of confidence from my halfback, so does everyone in a team environment, and I think he’s got that and he’ll prove a lot of people wrong this year.”

If last season was anything to go by, we’re still just scratching the surface of what Flanagan has to offer as a halfback.

After returning to the top grade in Round 5, Flanagan played every match for the remainder of the season and finished with career highs in average run metres and forced crop outs.

He also managed nine try assists, just two off his career high with the Roosters from 2020, when he was part of a far-more-talented squad.

Getting that time in the middle outside the spotlight could prove crucial for Flanagan’s development. Instead of being The Guy, he had a chance to be one of the guys. 

But that’s a thing of the past — even with the Bulldogs boasting more star power. Flanagan must prove he’s up to the task if the club is to justify the expectations. 

However — with his combination with Matt Burton continuing to develop and the addition of the cunning Reed Mahoney at hooker — Flanagan has never been in a better position to succeed during his time at Belmore.

“My confidence grew every game. I had the mind sight where I wanted to improve each week, and I feel like I did that,” Flanagan said.

“It’s what I want to continue this year. When you play consecutive games, you build combinations with your halves partner, with your edges, with everyone really. I feel like I’ve grown as a person and a player, and I want to bring that to the team.

“Reed [is] coming in. We’ve tried to nail as many reps as we can together. Everyone knows he has a sharp pass out of dummy half and he likes to control the ruck and that takes a lot of pressure off me.

“Burto’s a freak of a player and our combination really built last year. I started to learn when and how he wants the ball and we’re looking to build off that.”