Gallen goes from grub to greatness
Paul Gallen is tackled by Queensland player Jonathon Thurston. AAP Image/Julian Smith
If NSW ends the Queenslander’s six-year Origin domination next Wednesday night at Suncorp, you can bet your last dollar Paul Gallen will be the one leading from the front.
A self-confessed former grub turned inspirational skipper of both NSW Origin and the Sharks, Gallen “saw the light” in 2009.
Before that, Gallen was one of the dirtiest footballers I had ever seen.
He was a grub, alright, and it was amazing he didn’t cop an early shower in most of his games with a concoction of brawling, head-butting, high hits, late hits, racist remarks, and cheap shots on the field.
He explained his dirty play with this quote: “We’ve got a motto here at the Sharks – do whatever it takes to win.”
But Gallen was no oil-painting off the field as well, urinating in public near the head of a drunken team-mate, and starting an all-in with club members at a rowdy alcohol-fuelled party.
The Sydney Morning Herald didn’t miss Gallen at the height of his infamy.
In early April 2008, the spray read: “In his latest episode of bastardry, within minutes of tearing at Anthony Laffranchi’s bandaged head, Gallen reached between the legs of another Gold Coast player – Josh Graham – who leapt backwards claiming Gallen had grabbed him by the testicles. Based on photographic evidence and his pattern of behaviour, we just add this to Gallen’s cretinous acts on and off the field”.
The spray went on to add Test hard men Gorden Tallis, Mark Geyer, and Paul Sironen, had all complained about Gallen’s dirty play.
He was dubbed the NRL’s most hated man.
The birth of Charly changed Gallen. He didn’t want her to grow up being accused of being the daughter of that dirty rugby league player. And when son Kody arrived, the change was reinforced.
Not that he needs any reminding, but Gallen has Charly 20-8-09 and Kody 10-05-11 tattooed on the inside of his massive right bicep, making the transformation between the two extremes not only unbelievable, but a credit to the man himself.
He befriended young Sharks supporter Bailey Cantrill, a leukemia sufferer, going regulary to his home to kick a football in the backyard or play Play Station. When he’s well enough, Gallen has him in the Sharks’ shed before and after the game.
Bailey has big coloured photos of the two plastered over his bedroom wall.
“People say I’ve done a lot for Bailey, when the truth is Bailey has done a lot more for me. He’s a great kid,” was Gallen’s reaction.
But the biggest change has been Gallen’s bread and butter. From hated and dirty to respected as a high quality footballer, and a high quality bloke.
And when Ricky Stuart took over as NSW Origin coach last year, he had no hesitation naming Gallen as captain. In Origin 2, Gallen played the entire 80 minutes, matched only by Glenn Lazarus in 1998.
“To do that as a prop at the frenetic pace Origin is played, as well as making 234 metres, and 32 tackles, is phenomenal,” was how his coach described the feat at the time.
“He was the obvious man-of-the-match, and we squared the series with what was arguably the greatest performance ever by one NSW rep,” Stuart added.
In fact, Gallen has always been a metre-eater.
In 2005, he ran more metres with ball-in-hand than anyone else in the NRL – 3,920. And he topped the list again in 2010 with 4,056, and for the third time last season with 3,670.
So the NSW Origin skipper deserves universal recognition for turning his life around in such a dramatic fashion, on and off the field.
A win next Wednesday night would be the icing on the cake.
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