Is now the perfect time for Paul Gallen to call an end to his illustrious NRL career?
Paul Gallen will be remembered as a Cronulla legend and all-time great, having ended a 50-year drought to bring the Sharks their first NRL premiership. The question is whether he should retire immediately? Despite talk that 2016 would be the 35-year old's last season, Gallen signed a one-year contract extension in September. That was before the club's sensational grand final win over the Melbourne Storm. You can argue the Sharks captain should take this opportunity to go out on top. While Gallen seems to genuinely love competing, he may regret wasting the chance to finish with a bang. Chasing back-to-back premierships is incredibly tough and it remains highly unlikely that Cronulla will achieve consecutive titles, given no club has done so in the modern NRL competition from 1998 onwards. Gallen runs the risk of turning 2017 into an extended victory lap and some fans may see that as a bit selfish. After 15 years playing first grade footy, including 24 matches for the NSW Blues and 32 matches for Australia, you also have to ask what shape is his body in. The old warhorse has had plenty of wear and tear over his career, struggling with back injuries in particular. The game is only becoming faster and stronger, so whether Gallen has enough left in the tank for another round is cause for concern. However, the former NSW captain has retired from the Blues and recently missed out on the Kangaroos squad. The end of his representative duties should prove a blessing in disguise and will give him an easier schedule over the season. Having just lost hooker, Michael Ennis, Cronulla won't want to have yet another hole to fill in their forward pack. The prop's experience and leadership will be hard to replace when he does eventually hangs up the boots. Gallen also deserves a chance to set himself up for retirement. Unlike Ennis who is made for commentary, the 35-year old doesn't look set for a career in TV other than a few guest spots. Giving up his salary will be tough and it's questionable whether Gallen will find a coaching position, although you'd expect him to be offered a lifetime role with either Cronulla and/or NSW Rugby League. And rightfully so. Playing an extra year also means he's likely to reach the 300-game milestone and join the ranks of one-club players such as Darren Lockyer, Hazem El Masri and Nathan Hindmarsh. That would put Gallen in elite company. It's clear the Shark's captain's performances haven't dropped away, so there's nothing stopping him from having a final season with the club he loves. Having finally got the gorilla off everyone's back at Cronulla, Gallen deserves a year of playing footy without that pressure. Written by Tim Alexander