Paul Gallen of the Sharks takes the ball up against the Rabbitohs in round 20.
Paul Gallen of the Sharks takes the ball up against the Rabbitohs in round 20. CRAIG GOLDING

Give Gal his earned respect in milestone match

NO one would be silly enough to bet against a howl of boos from the almost 40,000 at Suncorp Stadium tonight when Paul Gallen leads the Sharks out for their crucial match against the Broncos.

But hopefully those fans with a smidgen of decency in their body can at least pretend the heckling is aimed at either Andrew Fifita or James Maloney, and not the Sharks skipper. That is the very least Gallen deserves on the occasion of his 300th NRL match.

Love him or hate him - and there are plenty north of the border in the latter category - Gallen has been an incredible servant to rugby league. And I raise my hand as one of those over the years to have had my issues with the veteran, who turns 36 on Monday.

But anyone who can achieve the 300-game NRL milestone, and play 32 Tests and 24 Origins along the way, is a marvel. It is an extraordinary feat of both his physical endurance and mental strength.

Okay, so Gallen doesn't have the cleanest judiciary record among those he will be joining in the prestigious 300 club. In fact, 18 charges for 20 weeks' suspension is pretty much up there with the worst in the game.

And then there is the other unsavoury aspect of Gallen's career - the peptides scandal that rocked the Sharks a few years back. The two-year investigation by ASADA, and the resultant suspension of 14 players including Gallen, threatened to ruin the club.

Yet, in the same unyielding, take-no-prisoners manner that Gallen has played during his 17-season NRL career, the Sharks bit back. Their return from almost oblivion at the end of 2014 to last year's first-ever premiership in the 50th year of the club was fairytale stuff, and those in the know heap most of the credit on Gallen.

Like most of us, Gallen has matured with age, and starting a family has been his stimulus. See him with his kids and Mr Loathsome becomes Mr Nice Guy.

Hear him on radio or watch him on TV and he is articulate, well-informed and concise. He is also, unsurprisingly, not afraid to call a space a spade and seems set for a career in the media when he finally does hang up his boots, more than likely at the end of next season, at 37 years of age.

While joining the elite 300 club - and becoming the 29th member - is now not such an extraordinary achievement, Gallen does join a very select group within that exclusive group of warriors. Of those 29, Gallen is just the 13th one-club member, joining Darren Lockyer, Corey Parker, Nathan Hindmarsh, Andrew Ettingshausen, Jason Croker, Hazem El Masri, Steve Price, Anthony Minichiello, Luke Ricketson, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk.

Another intriguing sidelight to tonight's milestone is that he is one of four players to have joined the 300 club this season, and two of the others - Chris Heighington and Luke Lewis - will pack down with him in the Sharks scrum tonight. And, hopefully, none of the trio will be booed.

News Corp Australia

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