Sharks, New South Wales, and Australian forward Paul Gallen is often described as a 'grub' in league circles. It's an insult that points to the talented back-rower's renowned loose grip on his own behaviour. Behaviour on the field, that is; these days it's best to clarify. Gallen has a bulging resume of perceived cheap shots and dirty plays (not to mention alleged racist remarks) that holds up against any villain in the game, past or present, with perhaps the notable exception of the now struggling pugilist John Hopoate. Whilst he has never stooped quite as low (in either sense) as Hoppa's infamous finger, Gallen has certainly matched the former bad boy for consistency. He's at it all the time. Swinging arms, stray elbows, niggle of every kind. Last Saturday's Four Nations match between the Kangaroos and Kiwis provided further evidence. Gallen came off the bench, attempted to send Isaac Luke's head into orbit, and, upon realising he had miscalculated the launch, promptly set about employing the alternate strategy of burying Luke's face into the dirt with his forearm. Gallen lost the number one from the back of his jersey during the match. No surprise really, given his habit of losing all sorts of things - the plot, the ball, the penalty count, the argument with the ref, his dignity, and this year almost every match he played. The missing number one was later found and used to rate Gallen's performance out of ten. If Nathan Hindmarsh is no-nonsense, Gallen is high-nuisance. So why does he do it? Moreover, why does he do it so regularly? We are not talking about some man-mountain park footballer with no skill and little to offer but brutality and intimidation. Quite the opposite. At club level Gallen is inspirational. He gains yardage as swiftly as he gains detractors, which is no mean feat. His footwork is neat, his off-loading ability unrivalled. Yet he is also capable of random unprovoked attacks. Perhaps he takes being a Shark just a bit too seriously. It's at representative level that the former Cronulla captain truly lets himself down. He seems so driven by the desire to live up to his own image of an enforcer that he simply forgets to play football. Certainly the coach can rely on him to drop the ball, give away a stupid penalty, wind up the opposition, and stomp around with a bewildered expression at being constantly warned and sanctioned by the referee, but can he be relied upon for anything else? Many Blues' and Kangaroos' fans would say no, though probably not in earshot of the man himself. Given his ever-declining reputation, one wonders why Gallen doesn't try to change. One doesn't wonder for long, though - he just can't help himself.
For more of Kalon, visit his blog leaguelarrikin.blogspot.com