Monday halfback: Gallen's Origin message
"Just because you get picked for Origin doesn't make you an Origin player."
New NSW captain Boyd Cordner quoted former skipper Paul Gallen when addressing his players earlier in the week, describing what it meant to take over as captain of the Blues.
With the sentiment of those words still echoing in NSW camp, Gallen turned out for Cronulla and showed exactly what they meant.
If the Blues want to know what they need to do to beat Queensland in Origin I at Suncorp Stadium, they need only look at the actions of their former captain. When the game is on the line, they need to do the simple things well, and own the moment. Push your body forward when it doesn't want to.
Gallen could still inspire NSW to victory over Queensland, even though he won't line up in sky blue.
His determination in two key moments of Cronulla's clash with Canterbury-Bankstown inspired his team into action and to two competition points.
With the Bulldogs riding a wave of momentum and the Sharks out on their feet with just 15 minutes left, it was a piece of sheer grit and determination from Gallen that got his team back in the contest.
First he was the man back to take a perfectly weighted Matt Frawley grubber and force his way back into the field of play, saving the Sharks from a repeat set of defence. It was inspirational. And it immediately lifted the Sharks out of hibernation.
Forty-five seconds later, they had scored at the opposite end of the field and tied the ball game. It galvanised Cronulla and the sold-out crowd who sensed the game had swung on the back of their skipper's heroics.
One play can change a game.
Gallen inspires his team with a match-changing run out of his own in-goal.
With the scores tied and the game clock ticking down, he did it again.
The Sharks captain got the ball on the 35 metre line, pinned his ears back and just charged like his life depended on it, breaking two tackles and shooting straight through the other side.
Gallen just ran straight and hard and even though the Bulldogs defence knew what was coming, they were powerless to stop him, as he broke their line and their hearts with a lung-busting run full of purpose.
Once he had broken the line, it would have been tempting to keep fighting for every inch, but Gallen's experience was telling.
When he realised he wasn't going to score, he actually slowed down near the 10 metre line and found his stomach. It gave his team the perfect set-up for a field goal that was aptly put away under no pressure. Gallen knew that fighting any further would allow the Bulldogs defence to regroup and pressure the field-goal attempt.
By slowing down after making the break, he got a quick play the ball and the Bulldogs had no chance to do anything other than watch and hope as Chad Townsend snapped his shot from straight in front.
The run turned a difficult 35 metre field-goal attempt to a 20 metre snap.
It was the mark of an Origin player.
"When you look at it, I made the same amount of runs I probably make and same tackles but sometimes you get lucky and one of those runs leads to a break," Gallen said.
"When I got out of the in-goal, it was just one of those things that fortunately happened for me so that's what I do, just put myself in the game and sometimes things come off."
Statistically, Gallen was right, it was no different to any other game he had played in the Sharks jersey. But what the statistics can't possibly reveal is what and when those metres and tackle breaks were made.
They were game defining plays under enormous duress.
He put himself in a position to be involved, and owned the big moment.
In the Origin arena, with the teams evenly matched, you need to do the simple things well, keep yourself in the game, absorb pressure and own the moment when it comes.
We are about to find out if these NSW Blues are indeed Origin players.
Tolman's heroics take toll
When Bulldogs captain James Graham went down with an injury early against the Sharks, it forced Canterbury to rethink their forward rotation and left Aidan Tolman to shoulder the load at prop forward for the entire 80 minutes.
Tolman tackled everything that moved - and some things that didn't - in an almighty effort against the reigning premiers. He made 51 tackles and missed just one, while also running for 148 metres.
When he wasn't tackling himself to an absolute standstill, he was also the first defender down the field on kick-chase and forcing a line drop-out when teammates were out on their feet.
But eventually, that work took its toll.
No-one needed a break more than Tolman, but Gallen's heroic effort to get out of his own goal robbed him a chance to catch his breath.
One tackle later, the Bulldogs were finally exposed. The Sharks shifted the ball right fresh from the Gallen charge, Bulldogs half Matt Frawley had turned outwards and left a gap too big for Tolman to cover on the inside.
Tolman was ever-so slightly slower to slide across than his mind wanted him to be, and it was too late, Cronulla finally isolated the warhorse through the speed of Gerrard Beale and made the Bulldogs pay.
It was the try that levelled the scores.
Tolman gave everything he could and then some, but the Sharks found a way to use that against him and find the all-important try that led to their comeback.