New South Wales captain Paul Gallen has matured over his career but always showed leadership qualities, according to Blues teammate and close friend Greg Bird.
The two players began their careers together at Cronulla (Gallen debuted there in 2001 and Bird in 2002) before Bird's move to the Titans via Super League side Catalans Dragons.
Perhaps like Bird himself, Bird said Gallen had "a lot of s--- in him early in his career", with both players finding themselves on the wrong side of the judiciary later in their careers, and Bird says there was early criticism that came along with that.
"When Sticky [then-Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart] made him captain there he cleaned up his game. He went [from being] one of the players everyone hates in the NRL to New South Wales' saviour and he deserves it. He has put a lot of work in. He has always been a leader."
Bird said when the two were young players coming though at Cronulla, despite both still being young a large number of the senior squad had retired and moved on during those early years.
"There was really only Brett Kimmorley above us, [Gallen] took on a leader role from that stage. He has really grown and matured as a player from there."
Bird said Gallen doesn't let the current dramas around the club – including the ongoing ASADA investigation, changes in the coaching ranks and the recent departure of playmaker Todd Carney following an off-field indiscretion – affect his performances.
"He is the captain of the club and state, he carries it. It doesn’t affect his game when he crosses the white line. There are no thoughts on any dramas that have happened off the field, he just goes out and plays his game.
"You are paid to be a footballer. It’s a good way to vent your frustration to get out on the field and do what you love doing and forget about everything else that’s happened."