Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen says the fire in his belly to play on into a 17th NRL season and past the coveted 300-game milestone hasn’t been dampened by yet another injury setback.
Having spent a large chunk of the last two seasons sidelined by injury, Gallen is facing as much as six weeks out with knee ligament damage suffered in Saturday night’s 20-14 round one loss to premiers North Queensland.
While the Sharks ironman is determined to press on, it’s brought his recent injury history into focus.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan breathed a sigh of relief when his 34-year-old skipper was cleared of a season-ending knee problem, but it’s yet another blow for Gallen who managed to play just 27 of the Sharks’ 50 games over 2014-15.
Last year, his club asked him to stand down from representative football so he could spend more time on the park for the Sharks in the twilight years of his career.
Off-contract at the end of this year, the NSW skipper is contemplating whether to seek a one-year extension that would see the 260-gamer join the illustrious 300-game club sometime next year.
He said on Monday the latest setback would not affect his decision, which he is expected to make before Origin I, and played down the suggestion it was a sign his time in the game was drawing to a close.
“I’m not talking about (the end of my career),” Gallen said.
“It’s an injury. (Canterbury hooker) Michael Lichaa is 21 and he did the same thing on the weekend.
“It’s a contact sport and it’s the game we play and that’s the way it is.”
In Gallen’s absence, Michael Ennis and Wade Graham will serve as co-captains while Joseph Paulo and Jesse Sene-Lefao shape as possible replacements in the Sharks’ 17.
The loss of their workhorse captain is expected to be felt sharply by the Sharks who are traditionally a far better side with him in the line up.
Since 2012, their winning record has dropped from 48.3 per cent to 42.9 per cent without him on the park.
It also leaves Flanagan left to work out how to cover Gallen’s massive workload, in which he often plays the full 80 minutes.
However Flanagan said the task of replacing Gallen had been made easier by the fact they had planned to reduce his playing time this year.
“If you watched closely (against the Cowboys) we’ve changed his game this year,” Flanagan said.
“He played that middle third and then had a spell 10 minutes before halftime.
“That’s the model we’re probably going to go with this year, that Gal probably won’t play 80 minutes.
“We weren’t relying on him to stick it out for 80. We want him to be real consistent and powerful for that 30, have a spell and come back.”