As speculation builds that Paul Gallen may delay his representative retirement for one more year of State of Origin, the newly-unveiled City Origin skipper says he's "not going there" at this stage as he credits a clear head unburdened from Origin issues for his strong recent form.
Gallen said City coach Brad Fittler rang him at the start of the NRL season to sound him out about a possible representative swansong, at which point Gallen wanted to wait and see how he was travelling closer to the fixture.
Following his recent strong form, Gallen agreed to suit up for his second City Origin appearance and his first since 2006 – but he wasn't keen on thinking about a possible NSW recall after crediting his rep retirement for his clear head and good recent performances.
"I don't know [if I'd return to Origin], I don't really want to go there at the moment," Gallen said.
"I've just been really enjoying the way I've been playing at Cronulla, I've been really happy with my performances."
Gallen – who has the most metres of any forward this year with 1,480 at 185 per game with 16 offloads and two tries – said his representative retirement had "certainly" contributed to him playing well this year.
"I don't have to deal with the level of promotion," he said.
"As you've seen Origin is a massive beast, it's promoted from basically Round 1 or 2 so I haven't had to deal with that side of the promotion of it, haven't had to deal with the critics who are around saying whether I should be there or not be there. Certainly I think it's contributed to playing well and just having that relaxed feel for the game again."
Gallen admitted his coach Shane Flanagan was less than ecstatic to have his skipper involved in rep weekend rather than resting his ageing body, which would not bode well for a conversation about three more Origin games.
"I really don't know what to think about [Origin] at the moment because I'm really just enjoying playing club footy," he added.
"It's like the stress has gone out of the game a bit for me. After winning the grand final and pulling back and enjoying club footy I feel pretty stress free at the moment so I don't know if I want to put myself back under that pressure."
Gallen was more than happy to discuss how much a long-awaited City jersey meant to him.
"It means a lot. It was my first ever rep jumper and to be the last [City v Country match] ever, there's a lot of history in this game, over 100 years of it," he said.
"I knew about this game from the time I was a kid so to be able to play in the last one ever is a big deal."
Gallen also remembers a long wait for his first rep jersey after feeling like he was playing well in the first few years of his career but having to wait until his sixth season of first grade for his maiden City jersey.
That start off the bench in 2006 earned him the game ball despite his team suffering a 12-10 loss, and an immediate call-up for that year's Origin series.
"I remember how long it took me to get a rep jumper early in my career," Gallen said.
"I thought I was playing pretty good in the early 2000s and I remember [my manager] Dave Riolo ringing me saying 'I think you're going to make the City side'. That was 2004, 2005 and it never came.
"I remember being pretty frustrated back then. [In] 2006 I only got picked on the bench but went on and made the most of it. I remember I got the game ball that day. We didn't win the game though which was disappointing and haven't played since because I've been lucky enough to play for NSW and Australia most of the last 10 or 12 years. It feels good to be back."
This article first appeared on NRL.com