Saturday, July 11, 2015

The predicaments of Pearce & Paul

Gallen and Pearce during Wednesday night's humiliation against Queensland. Both player's futures in the Origin jersey are clouded.
The New South Wales captain, Paul Gallen, and halfback of 2015, Mitchell Pearce, both find themselves in curious predicaments following Wednesday night’s loss to Queensland. Gallen is nearing the end of a polarizing career that has spanned almost 15 years at the top level of Rugby League. Pearce is in the middle of his career, at the claimed prime position of the average ten year window Rugby League players are said to have in the game. Both players have recognitions and awards for what they have done on the football field but they are facing intriguing situations that will have path-determining effects on their future in Rugby League.   
The might of the Queensland State of Origin team over the last decade has had a significant influence on both Paul Gallen and Mitchell Pearce. They have continually had to turn up and be defeated and at times humiliated by the power of the future-immortals led Maroons side. I
n what must be a soul-deflating couple of months each winter, Gallen has played in nine origin series’ since 2006. He has won only once. Without disrespecting Gallen, that is an incredibly sad record to hold. He must have felt so much pain over that length of time, year after year coming away with nothing. It appears Gallen developed through this time a feeling that everyone was against him, with Queensland often getting the rub-of-the-green on contentious game-defining decisions that would break the motivation and soul of the New South Wales side.
Playing with Cronulla, who are often considered to be a shambolic club that haven’t won anything, ever, and that realistically, not too many people care about, has not helped this feeling of being ripped off, under the pump, written off and soul-sucking sense of losing, or not getting anywhere. Gallen is, or used to be, one of the most penalized players in the competition. He would always seem to give away a penalty just as his team was making progress in a game, and just about every time he would argue the penalty with the referee. He is often seen in pleading arguments with the men in the middle, rarely does he accept he gave away a penalty at a key part of the game. At times, it appears it’s everyone else’s fault, but Paul Gallen’s.
He is now in some form of limbo as he has not yet signed an NRL contract with Cronulla for next season. Wanting a one year deal for the 2016 season, Gallen was at the center of controversy once again before game three after his club coach, Shane Flanagan revealed Gallen wouldn’t be playing Origin next year. While Gallen would have loved to have made this public after a NSW series win, he was thrown under the bus by his coach and had to dispel Flanagan’s comments as wishes rather than fact.
Whether Gallen does play origin next year or not, his commitment in a long and loyal 15 years at Cronulla has earned him a contract at the Sharks but in signing him for just one year, are Cronulla risking future player development and future salary cap maneuvers. If you’re going to sign someone for one year, wouldn’t it be with the hope they could actually help you win a premiership? While Gallen can obviously genuinely do this, the Sharks just don’t have the roster to make this a reality.
But with some of the most talented juniors in the country on their books and titles at youth level, maybe it is time for the Sharks and Gallen to go their separate ways. A transition from Gallen’s leadership and a fresh start may just be what the Sharks need after some tumultuous years.  Whether it is next year or the one after, it’s going to happen eventually.
Gallen has stated before he would love to play overseas in the English Super League and with the door now open for big money deals in the Northern Hemisphere competition via a marquee player signing exemption from the salary cap, the Cronulla and NSW skipper would be ideally suited to guiding a club in Nothern England. A hard, passionate and determined player, Gallen would thrive in the growing Super league.
Pearce, has probably just reached the end of his representative career at origin level. He made his debut at the age of 19, returned for a stint two years after, and then played for three years straight before being dropped for last year’s series. Strangely, he was given another chance by NSW coach Laurie Daley this year despite the only Blues series win coming without Pearce in the side. With huge pressure on the Roosters halfback to finally deliver, or at least play a hand in, a Blues series victory this year, it was always going to be a tough ride for the now 26-year-old son of Rugby League legend, Wayne Pearce. After going missing when the Blues needed someone to step up in game one, Pearce put in a solid performance in game two and many began to think this could finally be the time he would get the egg of his back. But with the Blues steamrolled on Wednesday night, and Pearce having little to no impact, it will surely be the last time the halfback is seen on a State of Origin field. Unbelievably, is has no become clear that Pearce directed a barrage of banter at legendary halfback Jonathan Thurston during the first two games. For a bloke who was questionably given another chance in that arena, Pearce clearly didn’t understand the concept of going quietly about your business and letting your actions and results speak for themselves.
But that doesn’t mean the end for Mitchell Pearce, who is a premiership winner after being part of the 2013 Sydney Roosters side. It was in this year that Pearce recovered strongly from his origin loss and ultimately dumping. He was part of a club that was transformed under rookie coach Trent Robinson, led by a revival both on and off the field that saw the players coming together through strict dietary, personal and social sacrifices. Many of these inspired by the elite athlete and unique individual that is Sonny Bill Williams. There is no doubt the influence of Williams would have helped Pearce reach the highest achievement in the game.

Pearce should return to club football, and focus on nothing but that for the rest of his career. Manly players have has wonderfully successful careers at club level and missed out on being a representative star. One halfback that Pearce could consider echoing is former Titans halfback, Scott Prince. Prince was a premiership winner at the Tigers, but never went on to feature in representative teams. Despite this, he played 300 games, was captain of two clubs and won a Clive Churchill medal. On top of this, he was one of the most humble and likeable players in the game.
Pearce will no doubt continue his playing career with the Sydney Roosters for many years to come, and will quite possibly achieve more success at club level, but for now it looks like he won’t be found in a representative side. But this presents enormous opportunity for Pearce to show what he is truly made of, and chance for a determined fightback. But barring leading the Roosters into a Grand Final, it’s difficult to see him playing State of Origin again.

Gallen faces some tough personal decisions on his playing future, and with the Cronulla Sharks his career club, it’s hard to see him accepting an NRL contract with any other club. He will either be given and accept a deal at the sharks or shift abroad. His future with the NSW side will also be at the forefront of his future in the NRL, if he had of won the series on Wednesday night, he probably would have stepped away from Origin and dedicated himself to the Sharks for a final year. But no one likes to go out a loser and if he plays in the NRL next year, it’s likely he’d have another crack with the Blues. That is, if the coach decides to select the ageing forward.
As always in Rugby League, only time will tell.