Resilient Gallen Rides NRL 'Roller Coaster' To 300
He’s the battle-hardened Shark that just keeps on, keeping on.
Signing a one-year contract extension in 2015 – a deal which had at the time appeared to be his last in the NRL – Paul Gallen would go on to lead his beloved Sharks to a dream premiership in 2016.
It was a long, but worthwhile wait for tangible success for Gallen.
Seventeen years had passed since the time when ‘Gal’ first arrived at Cronulla – setting foot into the Shire as a bright-eyed Jersey Flegg player, with dreams solely of an NRL debut.
Tonight, Gallen reaches the magical mark of 300 NRL appearances, an honour reserved for only the most resilient in the game.
The 24-time NSW Origin representative has faced many a challenge – both on and off the field – across his 17, soon to be 18 seasons, in the top grade.
The 35-year-old has achieved almost everything imaginable in the game, ranking him amongst some of the greatest players of the modern era.
“In every generation, there’s always one or two players who define their time,” NSWRL CEO David Trodden says of Gallen.
“The biggest compliment I can pay to Gal, is that he is one of those one or two. He defines toughness.”
Toughness, and so too commitment.
Gallen becomes the 29th player in the game’s 109-year history to enter the acclaimed ‘300 club’, and just the second to do so all in the black, white and blue of Cronulla.
Pushing back on offers from rival clubs to continue his career elsewhere across his years in the NRL, Gallen joins Cronulla and fellow NSW Origin great Andrew ‘ET’ Ettingshausen amid the distinguished crew.
“Part of the reason why I signed at Cronulla was because of ET, and ‘300 games’ is something that I never thought about, it was never a goal to achieve,” Gallen says of his milestone match.
“You evaluate your career as it goes … It probably wasn’t until  that, if I played on into this year, that I’d thought I’d be able to get it.
“It’s been a real roller coaster journey … I knew with the squad that we put together in 2015, we had that [premiership] window. Last year or this year I thought we’d be a good chance to win the competition.”
More than ‘a good chance’ Gallen and the Sharks proved to be.
Years of graft and grind were rewarded in a dramatic and memorable style for Cronulla, as they were in the drought-breaking success at State of Origin level with the Blues in 2014.
Holding aloft the Origin shield at Suncorp Stadium that season – somewhat fitting, the venue for his 300th NRL fixture – Gallen’s contribution to the Blues will never be forgotten.
“Paul’s a competitor, he’s always believed in his own ability, he’s always given his all,” NSW Blues coach Laurie Daley tells NSWRL.com.au.
“He’s an inspiration to those around him, he always gets through plenty of work, and you’ll never see him shirk a task or a responsibility.
“Not many players get to play 300 games, especially at the one club. He’ll forever be remembered as a Sharks great, someone who worked hard to achieve the goal he’d always set out to reach.
“He always wanted to be a part of the first team, to be the first captain to lead them to a premiership. Testament to his desire and his will, he did so. Now he’s driving them to go back-to-back.”
While he’ll celebrate his 36th birthday next Monday, Gallen’s gift may come in the form of two vital competition points earned against the Broncos tonight.
Perhaps greater still, not until October – so should he earn the right to lift the premiership trophy again in 2017, as he did on Grand Final day last season.
“I can only speak for myself, I’m as motivated as ever [to win back-to-back NRL premierships],” Gallen says.
“This opportunity we’ve got now, we’ve got to make the most of it. I’m as driven as ever to hold that trophy up again.”
It’s that drive and desire which has Gallen in the pole position to overtake Ettingshausen at the top of the list for most games played for the Sharks, next season.
And, given the resilience on show throughout his time in the NRL and when at the front of the Blues’ charge, a contract extension beyond 2018 may not be out of the picture.