If you'd told Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen during the lowest points of the club's 2014 ASADA scandal he'd be captaining the Sharks to the 2016 Grand Final he wouldn't have believed it.
The 'year from hell' not only saw the ASADA doping scandal threaten to tear the club apart (eventually resulting in short sanctions for affected players and coach Shane Flanagan sitting out for a year), but a scarcely believable injury toll wrecking any hopes of the club fielding a competitive team on the way to a wooden spoon.
Two seasons of healing and smart recruitment later has the Shire buzzing again and Gallen said it wasn't until halfway through 2015 that he started to emerge from that fog and begin to enjoy football again.
"If you had have asked me back then would I have been here now I would have said 'no' because we just weren't in a good space," Gallen said at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Tuesday just five days out from his first ever Grand Final in what will be his 279th game, to round out his 16th season in the top grade.
"Come probably midway through last season I think blokes like me and Wade [Graham] just started having fun again and enjoying football.
"It's always going to be there for us unfortunately but we left it behind as much as we can and if you asked me at the start of this year if I thought we could have been in a grand final I would have said yes. I thought we'd built a good enough squad."
Gallen said the players back then were in a really poor frame of mind given what they were going through.
"Just the headspace – I just didn't care. It's hard to explain. We were just turning up. We weren't all there, a lot of us. Midway through last year we found the fun again and here we are," he added.
Asked whether that experience toughened him and any of the affected players mentally, Gallen said while it was possible he'd still choose not to have gone through it, given the option.
"Me and Wade often have chats together and hear about other people going through tough times and we have a bit of a giggle together [comparing it]. We probably are stronger people, it's probably going to help us in life after football but as an athlete it's not something you want to go through," he said.
Gallen is also pleased for Flanagan, who has played a huge role in getting the squad to where it is now, with plenty of smart recruitments – young star Jack Bird and veteran playmaker James Maloney among them.
"[Flanagan] was obviously out for a long time, longer than us obviously. The way he came back and the way he put a good squad together at the start of last year and coached us and been there for us, he's done a really good job," Gallen said.
"He deserves the majority of it (the credit), he's got some good people around here to help him and he's done a great job in assembling this squad."
This article first appeared on NRL.com