His presence on the field is impossible to miss, but despite his larger than life appearance and golden bleach blond surfie locks, Ned Hanigan is a bona fide country boy.
Amidst a sea of orange jerseys, Hanigan is unmistakable with big grin atop a towering 194cm figure, that is often seen wedged in the front seat of his Hyundai Getz as the Australian smash hit ‘I come from a land down under’ blares from his dashboard.
As if that wasn’t enough, the lock’s big hits and strong set piece make him an undeniable feature of the NRC side the NSW Country Eagles.
Hailing from Coonamble in country NSW, it really doesn’t come much more ‘true blue’ than Ned, who admits his close friends call him ‘Shed’, which he carries on his instagram name, @shedhanigan.
“I get called Shed a fair bit, but you’d have to go and ask a few of my mates. They probably call me things behind my back that I don’t know about,” he laughs.
If it wasn’t evident in the twang of his voice, his country upbringing is obvious in his down to earth attitude that is a hard characteristic to find in someone as young as Hanigan.
The 21-year-old has been away from his hometown since 2008, when he moved to Sydney to start school at rugby nursery St Joseph’s College, and while Hanigan regretfully doesn’t ‘make it back home’ as much as he would like, he says he makes time whenever he can.
“I don’t really get home that often. When I can, I try to,” he said.
“I came down here for school, so I’ve been away from home for 8 years.
“I’ve got a month break coming up pretty soon, so I’ll go home for most of that, nearly three weeks.”
However, Hanigan says that travelling with the Eagles to home games in country NSW is a nice escape from city life.
“I love going back that way,” he said.
“It’s always good to get out of the big city riff raff life, and when you go out there, and it doesn’t really matter where in the country you go, you just go out there and it sort of reminds you of home.”
Hanigan has been an instrumental part of the unbeatable Eagles team, as they’ve gone five from five in the Buildcorp NRC this season.
He’s scored a try in all but one game, and last week secured a bonus-point try after the 80-minute mark, pushing the Eagles firmly on top of the ladder.
The vice-captain humbly admits that the closeness within the team is the driving force behind their success.
“We get along really well and I actually have really enjoyed, from the first training session, being part of the Eagles,” he said.
“Everyone sort of just enjoys playing for one another, and we play a type of footy that we all really like to play.”
The second rower is also fond of his grassroots rugby club Randwick in Sydney’s Shute Shield, where he’s been since finishing school in 2013.
Growing up on a property in Coonamble with ‘keen horse people’ as parents, it was only fitting that Hanigan made the Galloping Greens his home club.
“I love going back to play at Randwick,” he said.
“You know they gave me an opportunity there, alongside UNSW and so going back and playing for them, is always enjoyable.”
While the Waratahs rookie loves getting back to his grassroots, he says he loves the ball-in-hand play of the NRC, and hopes his minutes on the paddock will earn him some more Super Rugby caps in the future.
“The NRC style is a style of footy I enjoy playing, it’s quick, it’s up tempo and I’m really enjoying my time playing in the NRC with the Eagles,” he said.
“I’m contracted to NSW next year, and obviously if I play footy pretty well for the next month and a bit, that will set up a good pre-season going to the Tah’s and the season next year.
“I don’t know (about next season), a lot’s got to happen between now and then, but yeah, hopefully I’m around there in the mix and we’ll see how we go.”
Off the field, Hanigan avoids the subject of footy and likes to escape to the beaches of Sydney or the golf green to relax.
“I just like relaxing and getting outside of the footy circle,” he said.
“When I’m at footy, it’s all footy, footy, footy, so when I’m away from it I just like to get away from it and not talk about it.
“We’ve got a few guys that play golf…Nick Kellaway, Jake Gordon, Tom Hamblin, Sean Dillion and Lochie Burke.
“Myself, I can’t attempt to hit the golf ball and get it to go anywhere near the direction I’d like it to, but we’re all still learning.
“I try and go for a dip when I can, and they say you never regret a swim. It’s always a bit of a refreshing feeling jumping in the ocean.”
The larger-than-life character escapes to the north country this weekend, as the Eagles go up against Queensland Country in Toowoomba on Saturday at 1pm.