You Don't Have To Like Paul Gallen, But You Sure Have To Respect The Way He Plays
There are lots of reasons to be no fan of Paul Gallen, who today announced his retirement at the end of 2019. Seriously, how long have you got?
We could talk all day about the day the Cronulla Sharks legend picked stitches out of a wounded opponent's head, about he day he allegedly called a player two vile words we won't repeat here, about the ASADA scandal, the Salary Cap scandal and a hundred other things that made Gal the sort of player only a Sharks fan could love.
But here's the thing.
Look at that face. Just look at it. You know what that face is? It's tough, that's what. Every crater, bump and line on that mangled noggin tells a tale of dedication and toughness.
The toughness to play an unprecedented 80 minutes at prop in an Origin game. The toughness to run more metres than any NRL player in history. The toughness to still be playing at the top level at age 37. The toughness to be one of the first in the sport to open up about his mental health issues, at a time when that was still taboo.
Rugby league is a super entertaining game these days. The skills of the kickers and wingers get more freakish every year. But at its heart, it's still a slog. Win the arm wrestle, win the game. And when you had Gal on your side, you were always a better chance of doing that.
One of the worst trends in modern sport is measuring everything by numbers. We mentioned above that Paul Gallen has run more metres than any other player. For the record, it's more than 50,000.
But what does that actually mean? As a number, nothing, But as an image, everything. As a sports fan, you remember not just the scores of games you've watched, but the feel. And as a fan of a rival club who watched Gallen play numerous times, you can see him surging, surging, surging forward, low to the ground, always eking out that extra metre, as though a few blades of grass were commodities that could be traded for steak and beer.
Look at that body. Just look at it. You know what that body is? It's tough, that's what. Every bruise, muscle and sinew on that ungainly torso tells a tale of dedication and toughness.
Gallen is not tall for a modern league forward, at just 180 cm. Neither is he heavy, at only a few kilos over the 100 kg mark. But he barrels and barges rather than barnstorms, and it is no less effective. What more can you ask of any sportsperson than to make the most of the rig you're born with?
As a leader on the field, Gallen will be remembered for breaking two of rugby league's longest streaks. He led Cronulla to its first premiership in its 50 years of existence in 2016. And he snapped Queensland's record eight-year State of Origin streak in 2014.
Of course, he was also there on the losing side for pretty much all of Queensland's streak. But that's Gal. He wasn't necessarily a born winner, and in that respect, he might be a lot more like the rest of us than many care to admit.
Indeed, sometime this year, and probably soon, Gallen will pass the record for the most losses in NRL games ever. Mock him for this if you must. But know that Paul Gallen was a born trier, and that if you tried half as hard in whatever you do in life, you might just be half as successful.