When you think about Mark Flanagan, two clubs spring to mind: St Helens and Salford Red Devils.
Whilst at those two clubs, Flanagan played a starring role in two fairy tale’s that defied the odds both of which occurred at this time of year: Grand Final season.
Flanagan was tasked with filling in as a halfback for St Helens in 2014 when, despite the absence of a number of key injuries and the loss of one of their few remaining halfbacks Lance Hohaia on Grand Final day, were able to defeat 12-man Wigan to end an eight-year wait for the Super League trophy.
Five years later Flanagan was one of the leaders guiding Salford to a first ever Grand Final after starting the season as second favourites for relegation.
They came up short in the final, but it was still a night no Salford fan will ever forget. That is unless they beat St Helens away this weekend to return to the Grand Final where, if they win it, they may banish the memory of that defeat.
However, the Saints are the reigning Champions with that win over Salford being the first of a historic threepeat and they’re going for a record breaking fourth consecutive title over the next fortnight.
Two great stories ready to be penned by the winner of this Saturday’s semi-final which has left Flanagan in a tough spot when deciding who to support this weekend.
“It’s really hard to describe my split loyalties between Saints and Salford,” Flanagan told Serious About Rugby League, “I’ve probably got, even though it was longer ago, I probably have more players in the Saints team now because the turnover in players at Salford, so I’m closer to Saints players more than Salford players.
“I had a real affinity with both sets of fans and the two clubs are very close to my heart so I’m completely on the fence on this one. It’s hard to split them. I’d want a draw in this game though that’s not possible.
“I just want a good, fair, exciting game and whoever is the better side on the day will hopefully win the Grand Final.”
So unwilling to pick who he wants to win – at least initially as you’ll see – Flanagan offered some insight into who he thinks will win: “The best game breaker for either team being out – Brodie Croft and Alex Walmsley – is big. I think Saints will win, I think if Brodie would have been fit I’d have gone the other way.
“He’s had such a big impact on Salford’s attack and the way they attack, very expansive, the play wide, they’re very flamboyant bringing the centres and backs into the game, but without Brodie they’ll struggle to play that game plan and that’s what would really worry Saints.
“Saints have been there and done it for a long time. They’ve got big experience in those games and they’ll be able to contain Salford a lot more without Brodie Croft.
“There’s not as much experience in the squad as in previous years because they’ve got quite an injury toll do Saints but I think Saints just.”
However, he definitely liked the idea of seeing Salford fans again pack out Old Trafford as they did in 2019 the thought of which changed his mind about his original neutrality: “I’d love to see Salford fans pack out that end of the stadium like they did in 2019. It was a pretty amazing playing in front of those fans.
“Do you know what, I’ve changed my mind. I want Salford to win.”
He went on to elaborate on why he ultimately wants Salford to do what many believed was impossible: “The more I’ve thought about it, I want Salford to taste glory more than I do Saints. It would be great in history for them to do four on the bounce but I’d love to see Salford fans who have waited so long to see success, I’d love to see them taste some silverware.
“I’d love to see them win, it would be great for the game.”