Rugby League


Gallen's grubby past

Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen still has blood on his hands, so it's offensive he can continue to point dirty fingers at others.

Before reviewing why Gallen decided to accuse 20-year-old Raiders back-rower Josh Papalii of a ''dog shot'' after last Sunday's semi-final loss in Canberra, maybe Gallen needs a reminder of his own colourful past.

Let's go back to 2008, when Gallen was a 26-year-old and already a New South Wales Origin representative. He was obviously a senior player by then, already captain of the Sharks too, before it was taken from him in 2009 because of the arrival of the more clean-cut Trent Barrett.

On March 29, 2008, television cameras captured Gallen deliberately sticking his fingers beneath the head-bandaging of Gold Coast Titans forward Anthony Laffranchi.

Laffranchi had received a head cut earlier in the match but, as the tough sport often requires, he had returned to the battlefield with stitching and bandages protecting the gash.

To a shark like Gallen, that was blood in the water. He gouged at the bandages like a kid sticking his fingers into a peanut-butter jar, re-opening the cut and forcing Laffranchi to leave the field again because of the blood-bin rule.


The NRL judiciary slapped Gallen on the wrist with a three-week ban.

Some media commentators had called for him to be jailed for common assault.

In the same match Gallen was accused of squeezing the testicles of Titans utility Josh Graham. That was never substantiated, but other NRL players then lined up to speak of Gallen's alleged dirty deeds.

Later that same year Gallen and Laffranchi would be teammates for the NSW Blues. But Gallen's the type of player who demonstrates unconditional loyalty to the men standing beside him and an absolute loathing for anyone opposite him. It's a big part of what makes him such a great player.

That same year, this time August, 2008, I remember reporting on a match between the Sharks and Sydney Roosters at Cronulla.

Now-Raiders skipper and then-Roosters prop David Shillington had been quoted in the lead-up to that match, describing the Sharks pack as ''not that impressive''.

There's more offensive passages in the Bible than that remark.

But a Sharks official had pinned the article to Gallen's locker before the game, knowing it would enrage their enforcer. In the opening set, Gallen was penalised for a choker-tackle on Shillington, the pair getting to their feet and trading blows.

Gallen pushed the boundaries the entire night, the referee keeping his whistle close to his lips and Gallen's tenacity keeping the Sharks well on top. Cronulla won 20-0.

Gallen and Shillington are Australian teammates but, knowing that history, I wasn't surprised to hear Shillington give credit to his young Raiders teammate Papalii for the job he did on Gallen last Sunday.

''Papa really stood up,'' Shillington said after the match. ''He got under him a few times and Gal didn't handle it very well.''

Gallen didn't handle the post-match press conference well, either. He began OK, leaving the matters on the field. But, provoked by a sour coach Shane Flanagan and prodded by the media pack, Gallen couldn't help himself.

''I really don't care about Papalii,'' Gallen said. ''He hit me with a dog shot with a swinging arm and once in the back without the ball.''

Gallen should have thought about his own past before trying to tarnish the future reputation of a young up-and-comer.

Gallen has worked hard on his image. His appointment as NSW skipper has coincided with him being more widely regarded as inspirational rather than irrational. But Gallen can't change his past.

It would have been interesting to hear what Gallen thought of his own Sharks teammates Jeremy Smith allegedly yanking on the injured ankle of Raiders fullback Josh Dugan. What if the shoe had been on the other foot?

It should be pointed out that the NRL's match review committee didn't find anything worth charging from last Sunday's game.

There is a role for enforcers and nigglers in rugby league. Not many people like them.

But hypocrites are worse.

Papalii was voted by NRL players as one of the hardest hitters in the NRL this year, just his second season in the NRL. But he's still a boy. He's quietly spoken, he lives with his younger brother and in the same unit complex as his parents, who have relocated to Canberra this year to provide family support.

He has supposedly been rattled by the attention on him this week, the Raiders removing him from media duties to protect him.

It hasn't stopped the media running with the story, experts trying to figure out who the ''next Ruben Wiki'' will target tonight.

According to reports, it could be anyone from South giant Dave Taylor to the roll-happy mascot Reggie Rabbit.

Shillington spoke earlier this week, admitting the Raiders could not fall into the trap of being baited by the Bunnies tonight.

Shillington has been guilty of it personally in the recent past. The last time the Raiders and Rabbitohs clashed this season, Shillington lashed out at Souths enforcer Sam Burgess after the English import got in his face and allegedly called him a 'geezer'.

Shillington has also had run-ins with Souths hooker Issac Luke, who attacked his legs in a cannonball-style tackle during last year's Four Nations tournament.

That's better left in the past if the Raiders want to win tonight. Better to focus on making history than reliving it.