LAST GAME: NSW  Origin captain Paul Gallen   during the captain's run at ANZ Stadium in Sydney.
LAST GAME: NSW Origin captain Paul Gallen during the captain's run at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. PAUL MILLER

Have to admit it ... Blues skipper deserves respect

IT’S FAIR to say I have never been a big fan of Paul Gallen. In fact, at one stage of his career I labelled him and Greg Bird the Grub Brothers.

But like many, Gallen has mellowed over the years. Sure, he is still no angel, as he displayed last weekend with his off-the-ball tackle on former Sharks teammate Isaac De Gois. But age – and kids – has doubtless helped soften his demeanour.

On Wednesday night Gallen will play his 24th Origin game, and his last for the Blues. He will finish third on the all-time list of Blues players.

Origin III will also be Gallen’s 16th appearance as captain of the Blues, which is a record. But unfortunately for Paul Gallen he was born in the wrong state in the wrong era. His Origin career kicked off in game three of 2006, the night Queensland started its run of 10 series wins in 11 years.

Since then Gallen has missed just six of a possible 29 games, but has lost 15 of the 23 he has played. And unfairly – because of his efforts – that is more losses than any other Blues player.

But despite that record, Gallen deserves to be considered one of the great Origin warriors. Personal opinions aside, no-one could deny that he has been anything but the heart and soul of the Blues in each of his 23 appearances.

Admittedly, he has been antagonistic, aggressive and even grubby. But he has never taken a backward step or shied away from the tough stuff, no matter how frustrating it must have been for him during the past decade.

His critics will say he’s been selfish. And some will condemn his perceived lack of skill. But I’d venture to say every single Blues player who has been beside him in those 23 Origin games would not have wanted anyone else out there with them in the heat of battle.

There have also been those – and well-credentialled critics among them – who reckoned Gallen did not deserve to play on Wednesday night. Too old, too slow, too predictable.

But again the rising 35-year-old has the statistics to prove those critics wrong.

In Origin I, he was on the field for 65 minutes, made 16 runs for 131 metres and pulled off 25 tackles. Only Boyd Cordner, who played all 80 minutes, had better stats.

In Origin II, Gallen played 49 minutes for 89 metres gained from 11 runs, and 31 tackles. The only Blues forward to contribute more was Aaron Woods.

So love him or loathe him, Gallen deserves to be honoured on Wednesday night. He has been a giant for NSW at a time when their fortunes, and their wins, have been at an all-time low.

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