Bird welcome back at Cronulla: Gallen
Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen says he would love to see former teammate Greg Bird back in a Sharks jersey as the club looks to return to the finals.
Gallen and Bird formed one of the league's fiercest forward duos before their partnership was dissolved in 2008 after the off-field controversy that forced Bird out of the club.
The pair were reunited during this year's Origin series and even presented each other with their jerseys for one of the matches.
In an wide-ranging exclusive interview with NRL.com, Gallen says he would love to join forces again with his old teammate - now at the Titans - and he says Sharks fans would welcome Bird back as well.
"I would love to see him come back and play here for Cronulla to be honest," Gallen said. "I personally think he wants to come back and I'd love to see him back here.
"… I don't know how many times I'm down at Cronulla or somewhere - and especially after Origin when we played together - how many people say ‘get him back, we want him back'. I think the whole Shire would accept him back for sure and I'd like to think the club would too.
"We could certainly do with a player like him and I think he'd like to come back."
Gallen said he was pleased the pair had renewed their friendship after drifting apart following the off-field dramas in 2008.
"I was there for him at the start when he wasn't allowed to play anymore," he said. "We sort of drifted a little bit. I was concentrating on things here and he wanted me to help a little bit more with getting him to play but there was nothing I could do.
"We kept in contact when he was in France. When he came back we had a good talk and things are really good now."
Dark days for Cronulla
The off-field dramas that derailed the Sharks' 2008 season and continued into 2009 have been well-documented and while the club has moved on, Gallen believes the crisis is still having an impact on the club now.
"It was really tough," he said. "I think we are only just starting to come out of the other side of it to be honest. It really has affected us for a number of years.
"In 2008 we made the preliminary finals and leading into that finals series, things started to go wrong. Birdy (Greg Bird) had to leave, then after that guys like Fraser Anderson left and we had about six or seven players out of our starting team from 2008 leave the club.
"… it was a really hard time. It affected sponsors; it affected players here; and it affected players wanting to come here. I still think we are just coming out of it now."
Maturing into a genuine leader
Gallen didn't emerge unscathed from Cronulla's horror period, having been forced to quit as Sharks captain in 2009 after he was fined for making racist comments.
However, he returned to the role this season for Cronulla and NSW after Trent Barrett's retirement and the man once regarded as an on-field 'bad boy' has matured into an inspirational leader. Gallen said become a father again had helped his focus on football.
"I used to work hard every week and left everything out on the field so I used to enjoy going out on the town (after a game)," he said. "Now I have things to go home to; it puts things into perspective more certainly. The next morning you'd rather be playing with your kids than nursing a hangover."
Gallen said his leadership style had changed over time and credited some of that change to one of his great rivals, Broncos and Queensland captain Darren Lockyer.
"I'm not the biggest talker," he said. "I'm not going to come up with the big speech at half time to fire everyone up. I just have to go out there and play my game and lead by example and that's the way I feel that I captain.
"Probably when I was first named captain of Cronulla I tried to talk too much. Talk is cheap really unless you can back it up with something it doesn't matter. In 2008 when I started playing with Darren Lockyer for Australia, I noticed how much he doesn't talk. He's very quiet.
"… He doesn't talk a hell of a lot but when he does talk people really listen. It's something I've brought back in since being named captain of NSW and Cronulla again. I don't have to be the loudest one in the room and say all the things that sound right. You just have to go out and play your game and that's one of the things I've learnt from him."
A Shark forever
Gallen admitted he almost left the Sharks in 2007, but the prospect of a move to another club no longer interests him. Despite the dramas of 2008-09 and a recent lack of finals football, he wants to finish his career in the Shire.
"A few years ago, prior to the end of 2007, I was close to moving on," he said. "But Ricky Stuart came to the club and I got on pretty well with him and I liked his style and the way he coached.
"He was the major reason I stayed here. Unfortunately he's moved on now, but I'm a part of Cronulla now. I love area; I enjoy living here; and I think the people around here like me. I can't see myself playing for another club for the rest of my NRL career."
A tale of two coaches
Gallen said while NSW and former Sharks coach Ricky Stuart and his Cronulla replacement and former assistant Shane Flanagan have different styles, they also have some similarities.
"Shane can probably be a little more relaxed at time," he said. "Ricky is pretty intense. You've got to be a certain type of guy to like Ricky's coaching style. He's intense; he gets a team up every single week but some guys can't handle it.
"And to be honest, some guys can't handle the truth and a bit of criticism and Ricky's an honest guy. Shane massages the boys a little more.
"But they are also very similar as well. They had a lot of years together so their tactics are similar. They must have rubbed off on each other."
No finals, but plenty of highlights
While 2011 hasn't been the best season for the Sharks, there have been many other personal highlights for Gallen - the birth of his son three months ago, Origin captaincy and the victory in Game II, his 30th birthday on Sunday and his impending 200-game milestone in round 26.
"Personally my little boy being born was great," he said. "I always wanted a little boy. I had a little girl first and she is awesome. I've got to get used to the little boy; he hasn't been sleeping well. He's a bit of a pain at the moment … but I'm sure I will grow to love him a bit more.
"But definitely the highlight was Origin II. When we won that game, when Jamie Soward set (Anthony) Minichiello up for that last try it's the best feeling I have ever had in football. It makes you want more of that feeling. It's probably why it was such a letdown in Game III."
The taxing Origin series took its toll on Gallen more than most, with the Blues skipper making the rare admission that he was tired and in need of a rest. But he said his fatigue was more mental than physical after his involvement extended beyond the six weeks of the series all the way back to January, when the NSW Origin planning meetings began.
"Physically I enjoy playing football all the time," he said. "There's a lot of talk about stand-alone Origin but I could play every day if my body would hold up. It's more (of a drain) mentally; you put so much into it …
"It was a big effort. To lose in the decider the way we did … we didn't give ourselves much if a chance of winning. It was a real letdown. It probably took me two or three weeks to get over it and I'm not over it yet. But now I just have to concentrate on things here."
Preferred position - lock or front row?
Gallen was widely lauded for his performance in Origin II where he played a full game in the front row, leading the Blues to an 18-8 win in Sydney to level the series. But he said he was happy to remain at lock in club football.
"I prefer it at lock, 13," he said. "It gives me the opportunity to run wide; to run at the smaller guys … I think that for the next couple of years there will be some bigger bodies than me to play front row, certainly at club level.
"Playing at Origin was different, because Origin is a totally different game. NSW over the past five years have had a number of front rowers who have had the opportunity to play there but obviously results haven't gone our way so they haven't been able to stay in the team. Ricky trusted me and knew I could do the job there and it worked out pretty well.
"Probably going forward, if a couple of young front rowers put their hand up and play good enough to play for NSW they will be picked in the 8 and 10 for sure."
Bright future at Cronulla
Gallen said the impending arrival of Wests Tigers pair Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs were a sign of the Sharks' positive direction for 2012 and beyond.
"Some of the players we have signed for next year goes to show that we can attract some bigger name players," he said. "We probably need to do a little better this year and we could attract maybe one or two more.
"It's going to start next year. I'd like to think we can make the semi-finals next year. We are really in a rebuilding phase at the moment and we've got some good young kids coming through. Our under-20s are coming second in the competition. I'd like to think a few of them will come up and play first grade over the next couple of years."