Gallen's gone from grub to good bloke
UNLIKE a quality bottle of shiraz, Paul Gallen has not become a better player with age. But he sure has become a better bloke.
Gallen has long been someone towards whom many Queenslanders have regularly vent their spleen.
For almost all of his 19 seasons in the NRL the Cronulla and NSW skipper has earned the ire of northerners, which in a weird kind of Aussie sporting tradition is a salute to his ability.
However, his take-no- prisoners style of play and a partiality to dishing out the dirt earlier in his career were not the only reasons he was consistently booed each time he stepped on to Suncorp Stadium. His widely publicised jibe that Queenslanders have two heads never helped.
And nor did his judiciary record. Twenty times Gallen has been charged for on-field misdemeanours, and has served 20 weeks on the sideline as a result.
Then there was the much-publicised peptide controversy at the Sharks.
But the fact his last indiscretion was six seasons ago is a fair indication the player who was once tagged a grub has well and truly cleaned up his act.
In fact, in recent seasons he has barely put a foot wrong and, as skipper, has lifted his club's first premiership trophy.
Still playing as tough as ever, Gallen has chalked up 333 NRL games and sits ninth on the all-time list. And although he will retire at season's end - he turns 38 in August - if he stays fit he could finish as high as fifth.
Last weekend his visit to Queensland was with a difference. In Magic Round he wasn't playing against the Broncos or the Maroons, and the crowd of 17,000-plus didn't appear as hostile towards him as during his previous 21 visits.
Whether that absence of volatility helped Galen and his teammates is a matter of conjecture, but before the courageous win by the Sharks last week his record at Suncorp Stadium had been just four from 21.
So - after all that grief - maybe the villain deserved a fond farewell.
And what a send-off it was.
With representative props Matt Prior and Andrew Fifita playing just 25 minutes between them, the responsibility of leading the hugely inexperienced pack was lumped on the skipper.
He responded as Gallen has so often done in the past, running for more than 200m, scoring the 79th minute try that busted open the 20-18 scoreline, and then potting the conversion - after the bell. And, he did it to a few Suncorp cheers, albeit tinged with some sarcasm.
But what occurred after the bell most emphasised that despite his cloak-and-dagger 19-season NRL career, Paul Gallen is very much a changed man.
His interaction with the media, and his openness and willingness to honestly and bluntly answer questions, is a message to all players that communication with the fans can win a new audience - even change some negative concepts.
I'm not saying all two-headed Queenslanders will miss him when he finally hangs up his boots at season's end, but no Paul Gallen will certainly leave a void.