Paul Gallen fears an over-hyped farewell season could derail Cronulla’s 2019 campaign in the same way Johnathan Thurston’s exit tour crippled the Cowboys last year.
Gallen will move past Sharks icon Andrew Ettingshausen as the club’s most capped player in Saturday’s clash with North Queensland, his 329th outing in the black, white and blue.
In Thurston’s final season with the Cowboys, the pre-season premiership fancies missed the semis for the first time since 2010, a crippling injury toll and stark drop-off from veteran campaigners landing them a 13th place finish.
But with Thurston considered a future Immortal and the Cowboys’ greatest player, an extensive farewell tour added to the club’s distractions, not dissimilar to Steve Waugh’s final summer in 2004 – Australia’s cricketers failing to win a home series for the first time in more than a decade as Waugh bowed out.
Gallen wants as little fuss made as possible, admitting on Friday that he could see his retirement becoming a distraction for his teammates as he reluctantly fronted the media.
“That’s why I don’t like doing this,” Gallen said, wearing a Sharks jersey to promote the club’s new sleeve sponsor TFH.
“I don’t talk to the boys about it, the boys haven’t brought it up and I’m going to continue to do that all year. At the end of the day this is a team sport.
“It’s about the team result and there’s no point us not winning and me going out this year. It just doesn’t mean anything.
“I won’t bring it up too often. I know [the media] might bring it up but for me it’s all about getting wins.”
Cronulla are planning to celebrate Gallen’s club appearance record when they next play at home against the Roosters in round five.
The iconic photo of his emotional embrace with Ettingshausen after the Sharks’ 2016 premiership has been turned into a mural in the Sutherland Shire, while there are also suggestions a statue of the same moment could be installed at Shark Park.
Gallen takes pride in passing Ettingshausen’s mark, but once more is preferring to focus on a Cowboys pack smarting from last week’s touch-up from Brisbane.
“Certainly I think when I look back and retire and I think about the position I played, the minutes I played and how I played, to be able to play 329 games, more games than anyone else for the club, it’s a big honour,” he said.
“You play a lot of games throughout your career, I think it’ll mean more to me when I retire.
“At this stage it’s just another game and all I want to do is get the win with the team. That’ll mean more to me than anything.”
Cronulla are expected to be 1-17 for the Cowboys clash with winger Sosaia Feki travelling to Townsville despite a knee injury forcing him off last week against the Titans.
Uncapped young gun Bronson Xerri also travelled as cover for Feki.
Meanwhile, the Sharks could be set to announce a new CEO as soon as next week, having concluded interviews for Barry Russell’s replacement after his tumultuous 15-month tenure ends in mid-April.