Aidan Ryan knows the newest Brisbane Broncos rising star better than most.
Kotoni Staggs is set to make his first appearance in Broncos colours on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium after a blazing start to the Intrust Super Cup premiership with Redcliffe in 2018.
Staggs has been elevated to the Broncos’ bench for the clash with the Sydney Roosters, just 18 months after helping his home-town team, Wellington, to the 2016 Group 11 under 18s premiership – a title victory that snapped a two-decade long grand final drought for the club.
As coach of that team, Ryan knew Staggs was special.
To be truthful, though, everyone in town knew the prodigiously talented Cowboys gun was always destined for big things.
A NRL debut was a matter of when, not if.
And now that when has become Friday the Wellington community “packed into a few cars heading up to Brisbane” is preparing to cheer on one of its favourite sons.
“It’s special,” Ryan, eight years Staggs’ senior, said.
“I lived with Kotoni, I’m best mates with his uncle (Trent Staggs).
“We used to play on the front law growing up, we used to smash him and he’d get up crying and we’d say to him ‘toughen up, toughen up’ and he always went again.
“I’ve been around him most of my life. It’s been tough for Kotoni growing up; he grew up rough.
“For him to develop into the player and the man he is now, it’s special for everyone.”
The centre-backrower has been in tremendous touch with the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup, scoring five tries and kicking 32 goals to be the competition’s leading point-scorer.
He’ll do it easy ... he was always going to play NRL.Aidan Ryan
Ryan has little doubts Staggs will handle the big time come Friday night against a Roosters side that ironically also includes another Wellington boy, Blake Ferguson.
Ferguson's sister Rihanna Sutherland plays for Wellington in Group 11’s league tag competition.
“He’ll do it easy to be honest. He was always going to play NRL,” Ryan said.
“But I didn’t think it’d be this quick. He’s only been there 18s months. To make an impact this early is something special.
“But I think given the way he’s played this season, it’d be hard not to pick him.”
Staggs was named on the wing for a Western Division open’s side as a 17-year-old in 2016, which was the first time a player that age has donned the famous green and white jumper since Orange’s Jaime Kelso and Forbes’ Russell Hill took on France back in 1989.
He’s dominated rep teams throughout junior ages, played for Group 11 and first grade with Wellington, as well as, obviously, helping the club take out that under 18s crown at Apex Oval two seasons ago.
And while greater accomplishments no doubt await for the hugely talented Staggs, Ryan knows wearing a Cowboys jumper is something the now-NRL player still holds dear.
“He’s very passionate about where he’s from and where he grew up,” Ryan said.
“He gives back to the community and a lot of young fellas around here idolise him. This is great for everyone.”
The Broncos take on the Roosters at Suncorp Stadium from 7.55pm on Friday night. The game will be broadcast live on Channel Nine.