Hanigan hanging on to country roots

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

Ned Hanigan makes time for one simple ritual before every game he plays.

Whether he is at Coogee Oval, Allianz Stadium or Twickenham the backrower takes a moment to look at his jersey and appreciate his position.

“I'll always make myself just take a little bit of time to look at the jersey, it doesn't matter if it's a Randwick jersey or a Tahs jersey or the gold jersey,” he said.

“It holds something special. I always run out on the field and although what's happening gets a bit more familiar, you get more experience in certain situations, the excitement and the thrill of playing for whatever team it is, that'll always be there.

“So, I always make sure (to do that) - you keep yourself grounded in that way a little bit.”

It’s that habit that reminds Hanigan of days where he and his brothers would make it to the bus stop half an hour before they needed to, armed with a cricket bat or football to keep themselves occupied.

Ned Hanigan has impressed in his second Super Rugby season. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyThere weren’t games every weekend but when they played, the distance from their home in Coonamble to games in other parts of NSW’s central-west, often ticked over into hours.

“In the country you used to travel like four hours to a gala day and you'd only get to play like two of every three weeks and now I'm living in a city that loves the sport, I get to travel the world to do it and I'm with a group of mates I love playing with,” Hanigan said.

“So just every so often that sort of thing... if I look at it (the jersey) one thing might hit me or you remember a situation last game or the job you've got to do and stuff like that.

“It all gets tied into it.

“I like just having a little bit of time right before I put the jersey on and then you whack it on and it's game on.”

Though he has spent his entire adult life living in Sydney, Hanigan hasn’t completely adjusted to the city lifestyle, keen to return to his parent’s cattle property in NSW’s north-east whenever he has the chance.

There is a country thread running through the Waratahs squad that is being acknowledged in this week's Country Round, with players including Paddy Ryan, Tom Robertson, Alex Newsome, Mack Mason, Rob Simmons and Will Miller all hailing from regional Australia, a source of comfort for Hanigan.

“The best way to get away from (rugby) is go home but having that in common with some of the players, it's comforting for me, and I think that's probably why when I first came down here I worked at the stables and was around horses and stuff like that just because it was a bit of bush in the city,” he said.

“I still think if I got injured and wasn't able to play, I'd definitely go home for one or two years at least and try it out.

“I haven't really been there for long enough particularly over the age of 18 to get a proper feel for it but I miss home all the time.

“There's too much riff raff going on down here, I need a bit of open space and a bit of quiet time, so I think I'd be back home for sure. ”

The opportunity to escape figuratively or literally has become a must for modern footballers with the rise of social media giving a direct line to praise or criticise their team’s players.

Ned Hanigan makes his starting Waratahs return. Photo: RUGBY.com.au/Stuart WalmsleyHanigan has certainly seen both sides of that coin, becoming somewhat divisive in the polls of public opinion.

The 23-year-old said he mentality of NFL superstar Tom Brady was one he used when it came to opinions outside of his own teammates and coaches.

“He just said, 'It's the game, I love playing the game and you can't let other people control what you do',” he said.

“You read papers or you see stories sometimes about other players and I've played with those players and have just got a totally different opinion about them.

“(Then) you think if someone else is writing a story about (you), if you take it on and let it affect you, you end up playing worse and then they write more stuff about you.

“If you come off the field and know you played bad, you get ready to cop it, but if you reckon you're playing alright and the blokes you're with think you're playing alright then it's all that really matters.”

The Waratahs are clearly benefitting from Hanigan's level-headed response to criticism - he has been a critical part of their run to the Super Rugby finals and despite the mixed public reviews, he's already shaping as  a pivotal member of Michael Cheika's World Cup Wallabies squad.

His next major challenge will be a maiden Super Rugby playoffs campaign and it's an opportunity he is sure to relish.

“Obviously you start a season and that's your goal and last year we probably let it escape us far too early,” he said.

“We were livid when the (2017) season finished - we were like, ‘we don't even feel like we got going’.

“And this year, it's in our grasp - we're in a good spot ahead of the last round, we've got an opportunity to come out here and we're treating it like a finals game because we just need to keep that momentum going into finals and I can't wait.”

The Waratahs take on the Brumbies on Saturday night, kicking off at 7;45pm AEST, LIVE on FOX SPORTS and via RUGBY.com.au RADIO. Buy tickets here.