In the days after Cronulla’s historic first grand final victory, Paul Gallen questioned whether that should be it for him.
A veteran of 279 games with Cronulla, 24 State of Origin appearances for NSW where he captained the Blues to a series win in 2014 and 32 caps for Australia, Gallen had only one individual honour left to achieve.
Gallen signed a one-year contract extension with Cronulla on the eve of the preliminary final win over North Queensland but, having won his career-defining premiership, wasn’t sure he wanted to play on for a 17th NRL season.
But a sense of duty to the club and his teammates saw him quickly shelve any retirement plans.
“I thought about [retiring], to be honest. But the thing is it’s a team sport. We’ve got a good senior playing group in myself, Michael [Ennis] and Wade Graham. Wade is young as we know and Mick was retiring so I didn’t want to jump on his bandwagon,” he said.
“To leave Wade by himself I just don’t think it’d be the right thing to do. It’s a team sport, I’ve got to do the best thing by the team. The club had planned to have me there next year from round 18 or 19 onward. So to up and leave now wouldn’t be the right thing to do.”
Gallen has enjoyed the celebrations as much as any of his teammates having endured some of the darkest days in the club’s history.
The ASADA investigation, and subsequent wooden spoon in 2014, had Gallen questioning not just if a premiership would be part of his destiny but if he even wanted to play rugby league at all.
Having finally won a grand final, his first and the club’s only title in their 50-year history, Gallen said the magnitude of the achievement was finally starting to sink in.
“It’s the last thing that I had to do as a player individually. There were times in my career I never thought it was going to happen,” he said.
“And there were times in my career where I thought to myself “why didn’t I go to Manly when I had the opportunity?” They won two grand finals. So to finally do it at this club really is a dream come true and does mean a hell of a lot to me.”
No side has won back to back premierships since Brisbane in 1992-93 but Gallen can see no reason why Cronulla can’t be the team to end that run.
Despite the loss of veteran hooker Ennis, Cronulla have further strengthened their roster with the addition of former Canterbury forward Tony Williams.
While winning two titles in a row might be difficult, Gallen was adamant motivation wouldn’t be a problem.
“I spoke about it with [Sharks coach Shane Flanagan] the other day and I don’t think it’s going to be hard [to go again],” he said.
“The motivation for me next year is to do this again, to have this feeling again. If I can get that message across to all the other boys there’s no reason we can’t have a successful season next year too.”