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Unfiltered: Blues captain Paul Gallen has always spoken his mind. Photo: Wolter PeetersForan quits NRL as Eels crisis deepensMaloney labels Bird a ‘space cadet’Discord: Should clubs get perpetual licences?
苏州美甲美睫培训学校

There’s a moment in most one-on-one interviews with footballers when things can swing either way.

Uneasily, you ask the tough question. You hope he gives a considered answer. You know he will probably laugh it off. You fear he will hoick your digital recorder through the air, narrowly missing an unsuspecting television reporter’s head in the distance.

Asking Paul Gallen how he deals with suspicions that his 80 minutes at prop in game two of the 2011 Origin series was fuelled by performance-enhancing substances could be considered the tough question.

But it had to be asked. That match defined Gallen then, and in many ways now.

NSW coach Ricky Stuart threw Gallen into the front row for the first time of his career and knew if his man played the entire match “he’d get man-of-the-match”.

Going the distance in club footy is one thing, but in the madness of Origin when lungs burn and legs wobble after a handful of minutes, it is virtually impossible. The only other prop to do it was Glenn Lazarus for the Blues in 1996, and he was a brick with eyes.

Gallen didn’t let anybody down: 27 hit-ups; 204 metres; 31 tackles. Stats don’t explain his desperation in defence, his involvement that led to tries, the dirt and blood stains all over his jumper as NSW won 18-8.

A maligned character because of past discretions on the field, from grabbing rivals on the testicles to racist remarks, the state instantly fell in love with him.

“He’s got the shit out of his game,” former Parramatta forward Ray Price said in the wash-up. “He plays smart and he plays unbelievably tough.”

Recalls Gallen: “For me, it wasn’t that outstanding because I do it every week. I’ve done it every week since 2004, playing 80 minutes. I just had a job to do and I did it.”

Gallen was a hero then. But now? Now, with one game left to play in the sky blue, he divides opinion not just at the Queensland border but within his own state.

Mr Perpetual Motion: Paul Gallen. Photo: Getty Images

The reasons are mixed but the events of 2011 when Sharks players admittedly – and by their reckoning inadvertently – took banned supplements on the advice of controversial sports scientist Stephen Dank is foremost in many minds.

In the end, 12 members of the Sharks 2011 squad accepted backdated 12-month bans that amounted to three NRL matches and, for Gallen, a Four Nations tour.

So the tough question: how do you feel about claims your fabled 80-minute performance was enhanced with substances you should not have been taking?

“That will be part of the book,” Gallen says, pointing to an autobiography he has been working on for months. “When people read the book … Mate, what can I do? People have their opinion of me, I can’t change it. It will be explained in the book.”

For mine, the issue sums up the conundrum of Paul Gallen. If he were a Queenslander, they’d be naming bars after him at the Caxton Hotel. In his own state, they don’t know whether he’s messiah or pariah.

“Mate, I’ve copped criticism my whole career,” he says. “It’s just certain voices are louder than others and have more clout. They have every right to express their opinion, but when they say it it does hurt.”

That Gallen didn’t hoick the digital recorder also explains much about the man.

True blue: Paul Gallen. Photo: Getty Images

Maybe it’s because of his emerging role in the media, maybe it’s just how he is, but whatever comes out of Gallen’s mouth is usually unfiltered. He was the same in rare one-on-one interviews a decade ago, and more so now.

With media contracts at Channel Nine, Triple M and the Big Sports Breakfast, his voice is becoming as loud as those who criticise.

“It gets me in trouble,” he says of his candour. “People either love me or hate me. You blokes [in the media] must talk. There must be people who don’t like me. I just say it as it is. That’s just the way it is.”

If a reporter doesn’t see value in a player who speaks his mind, the reporter should go back to Reporter School. In an era when clubs educate their players in the art of saying a lot about very little, Gallen is money.

His remarks last week on the Big Sports Breakfast about Queensland forward Sam Thaiday’s spear tackle on him in game two is a case in point.

“I think it depends on who it was done on, I really do,” Gallen told the radio program. “Wade Graham told me in his judiciary process when he was in there all the talk from the prosecutor was the fact it was Johnathan Thurston. Now if that wasn’t Johnathan Thurston, I have a feeling Wade Graham wouldn’t have been charged. I certainly think it comes down to who the player is at times, I really do.”

As soon as the words came out of Gallen’s mouth, you knew the Integrity Unit would be crawling all over him. He was clearly accusing the match review committee and judiciary of bias.

Ultimately, head office didn’t take any action. The reason it won’t say publicly is that it didn’t want to muzzle a player who generates publicity, good or bad.

“See, I had no idea until the next day that I had a problem,” Gallen says. “When you go and read it, I can see where they are coming from. I speak my mind. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. I get a fair few phone calls off Lyall Gorman post-interview.”

Gorman is the Sharks chief executive.

“What have you done now?” he’ll ask Gallen after his captain has said something, anything controversial.

Says Gallen: “Lyall’s trying to help me [with my public comments] but I don’t think I want to change because if I do I am not being myself.”

Gallen is telling you this in the corner of ANZ Stadium at the Blues’ media call on Monday.

Unfiltered: Paul Gallen and Robbie Farah. Photo: Mark Kolbe

He reveals he and hooker Robbie Farah had earlier in the day discussed the idea of placing a media ban on themselves.

Most of the criticism following the Blues’ game-two loss was directed at their two most experienced and oldest players.

Like Gallen, Farah is also unfiltered. But both were reluctant to say anything before the dead-rubber at ANZ Stadium on Wednesday.

“You can’t win,” Gallen offers. “Robbie and I sat down and we were talking about doing media and this whole situation makes us feel like we’re in a no-win situation. We’ve been bagged because of our performances. Well, not our performances … We don’t even know what we’ve been bagged for. Do we try to defend ourselves because of the way we’ve been playing? I think that does make us selfish if we’re trying to defend ourselves. It’s not about us, it’s about the team and the team result. It’s just a hard situation to be in.”

It is about Gallen, though. He was the captain of the NSW side that wrested the shield from Queensland in 2014, but his final match will be met with indifference from the Blues faithful, many of whom wanted him moved on sooner.

His entire Origin career has played out that way. He played a sprinkling of matches in 2006 and 2007, but Craig Bellamy snubbed him when he was coach from 2008-10.

“He never picked me,” Gallen says.

When Stuart asked Bellamy to present Gallen with his jumper on the eve of the 2012 series, the Storm coach admitted he’d underestimated him.

“I wouldn’t say he apologised to me but he said he was wrong,” Gallen says. “That’s the thing with my Origin career. I’ve played a lot of games but it only came late.”

Finding his feet: Paul Gallen attempts to break through the Maroons defence during game three of the 2007 State of Origin series. Photo: Jonathan Wood

He’s played 23 matches, but it could’ve been more if not for injury. Of the games he’s played, 15 have been defeats. That’s a lot of defeat, a lot of pain. Gallen admits he will finish his career with regrets.

“In 2013, I missed the decider with Jarryd Hayne when we pulled out at training,” he says. “We lost by two points. I’d back me and Haynesy to make up two points. Then game one last year, I missed that through injury along with Greg Bird and Brett Morris. We lost that game by one point and then beat them in Melbourne.

“It’s just so up and down, the peaks and troughs of Origin. Bar game three last year, they’ve all been so close; decided by a try or a couple of points. And Queensland are lucky to have the group of players they have, and I’m sure they know that.

“I think about what could’ve been. It just hasn’t worked out that way for me.”

Last December, coach Laurie Daley held a debrief with his players as they searched for answers to the 52-6 embarrassment in the game-three decider at Suncorp Stadium.

In the wake of the heavy defeat, and at the age of 34 with the end of his career so close, Gallen approached Daley and gave him the chance to sack him.

“If you want to go in a different direction and bring new guys into the system, I’ll retire,” he told him.

“I pick the best team,” Daley replied. “If you’re the best player, you’ll be there.”   What an honour presenting @jackbird_ with his debutant medal. Love this kid #nrl #origin #upupcronullaA photo posted by Paul Gallen (@paulgallen13) on Jun 21, 2016 at 2:51am PDT

Gallen agrees with him: he does think he’s the best player in his position.

“I know at the moment I’m the best player in this position,” Gallen says. “I never get ahead of myself, I’ve never not worked hard. [Sharks veteran] Mick Ennis and I are the oldest blokes in our team and we still stay on the field and do simple dummy half and catching at the end of training. I’ve never stopped doing those little things and that’s why at my age I think I’m still going so well.”

See that? Right there? That’s one of those unfiltered Gallen comments that splits the big blue sea of NSW fans like Moses, the prophet not the young Tigers five-eighth.

It irritates former players and fires up radio talkback and text lines. Footy players normally play down their form, not remind others of how good they’re going.

By now, you would’ve thought Gallen was battle-hardened by the condemnation, even if some voices are louder than others.

“No, it still affects me. I’m not bulletproof. People talking about you is not nice. I don’t think anyone likes it, it affects some people differently but it’s not great. My family and everyone else hears it, and when you see it affecting people you love, it’s tough. It’s the way it is.”

It won’t be long before he’s sitting in the commentary box on a permanent basis, getting paid to be one of the voices that must criticise players.

“That is one thing I am very conscious about,” he says. “I do enjoy the media work and the radio stuff, but I will never judge players … I will only judge them for what they do on the field but never as a person. If I ever do that, I’ll be quite happy for a current player to come and put one on my chin.”

We’ll see. When he’s on the other side of the fence, as one of the loudest voices in the game, Gallen will need to ask the tough questions.

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