Papalii and Gallen: Old bull versus young buck
Driving the pitted roads out west of Gympie, if you’re lucky you’ll witness an entertaining sight: a couple of fattened-up bulls playing rugby league.
Wait that’s not quite right, actually they’re just butting heads and showing off to the ladies.
When God made cattle, she clearly thought it would be ‘smashing’ entertainment to have these mountains of meat spend their idle hours crunching their crania over and over until one of them decides the next paddock really does have greener grass.
At the risk of inviting unfair and unjustified comparisons to our bovine cousins, the weekend’s Raiders versus Sharks elimination final brought something of the same violent dance in the form of Canberra’s fierce greenhorn Josh Papalii and Cronulla’s beefed-up captain, Paul Gallen.
In the midst of a fast and furious match played in front of a packed Canberra Stadium their personal battle was a play within a play. The thunder and fury of several tonnes of prime Gympie beef colliding until one or the other submits, found an echo in their personal battle on the paddock in Canberra.
Actually this is overstating things. Papalii hit Gallen a couple of times from his blind side but neither shot was particularly savage or particularly late.
The points must be given to the young buck in this instance. Not that he particularly dominated Gallen physically – are there any who can say they have? – rather because Papalii was given the mission to get inside the Cronulla captain’s head and put him off his game.
He succeeded. Gallen was heard on Tony Archer’s mic demanding to know why the men in pink didn’t step in. Tough as he is, Gallen wasn’t asking for the referees to protect him, but rather to penalise Papalii.
His plea fell on deaf ears and so he resorted to threatening to take matters into his own hands. Ultimately he tried to do this within the rules of the sport, spotting Papalii in the line and running at him as well as keeping the verbals flying.
In the post-match interview Gallen seemed resigned to the fact he was on the wrong end of the scoreboard and no amount of crying foul over ‘dog-shots’ would help his cause. “Well done to the young bloke I guess” is what he told the on-ground reporter.
For his part, Papalii revealed his coach, David Furner, had had a ‘quiet chat’ with him before the match.
Furner, no stranger to the rough stuff in his day, got the 20-year-old in private and gave him the mission to rattle Cronulla’s captain and best player.
After a coaching masterstroke like this, one wonders if the howling demands for Furner’s resignation will be heard again for some time.
In any event the fans loved it. This is what playing in the forwards in rugby league is all about.
Getting ‘over’ your opposite number is a sacred and personal task for these fearless players and exemplifies how the individual efforts of every team member adds up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts.
It’s a philosophy that’s been in the rugby codes for generations. The added spice to the dish comes from the spectacle of the young buck taking on the old bull for possession of the pasture.
Gorden Tallis and Ben Ross were equally magnanimous in the aftermath of their round one 2003 battle, in which Tallis reminded the young Ross in no uncertain terms to respect his elders.
Ross landed a cheeky headbutt on Tallis in a tackle and then reminded the Raging Bull that his birthday was further away from today’s date than was Ross’s own.
It only cost him four stitches.
In turn, Shane Webcke and Tallis have both praised Robbie Kearns as someone they could never disrespect even as they were trying to sit him on his backside.
It goes to show the complex and delicate balance of heart-felt feelings between rivals, doesn’t it?
Perhaps it merely shows that blokes who need to physically dominate an opponent still need to abide by a code of manners and respect.
Paul Gallen felt the line had been crossed but I didn’t think so, without knowing everything that passed between them in the heat of battle.
I think it was just another chapter in the continual drama of the young buck taking on the old bull – man on man, bone on bone, and post-match interview on post-match interview.
Perhaps these two will meet again soon if Papalii plays for the Kiwis. One thing’s for sure: the next time these clubs meet, you can bet the earth will shake.