THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST ATTACKS I’VE SEEN IN PRINT FOR A WHILE… PERTAINS TO AN AUSTRALIAN RUGBY LEAGUE FOOTBALLER
By Paul Sheehan
Sydney Morning Herald
The first reaction to a crime is always disbelief. It lasts an instant, but the first reaction is usually, “No, this isn’t happening. It shouldn’t be happening. There is something wrong with this picture.”
This was my first reaction to the crime committed by Paul Gallen, the club captain of the Cronulla Sharks rugby league team, on Saturday night, March 29.
Gallen’s crime, caught live and in full view by the TV coverage, was sickening. It was beyond the law, the one that the rest of us live by, enforced by the police and the criminal justice system.
Gallen should be charged with common assault. But the only way we are ever going to see him in court over this matter is if he retains a lawyer and begins defamation proceedings against the Herald over this column.
Then he could have his actions judged by a jury of his peers. They could watch the TV footage, in slow motion, and decide if my opinion of his behaviour is justified.
Gallen should have his day in a court. Then he should have his day in jail.
His criminal assault was committed against Anthony Laffranchi, 27, who was already heavily bandaged after an accidental head clash earlier in the match between the Sharks and the Gold Coast Titans.
That incident left him with a long gash above the eye that required multiple stitches. In the great tradition of league’s code of toughness, Laffranchi came back on the field in the second half. He did not last long - Gallen saw to that.
In rugby league, players are routinely given a facial as they lie pinned to the ground, and often an elbow pressed into the head. It is routine. But Gallen went far beyond the usual grubbiness. A TV camera had an unobstructed view of his fingers probing and ripping around and beneath Laffranchi’s bandage. The wound was reopened and began to bleed. Laffranchi had to leave the field and was unable to continue. Mission accomplished. The Titans lost their best forward for the game.
Paul Gallen is a grub. A goon. Even by the cynical standards of rugby league. His record includes a laundry list of brawling, high hits, late hits and cheap shots. Last year, despite an injury disrupted season, Gallen caught the attention of match officials in round 13, when he was placed on report for a high tackle. The following round he was again put on report for a high shot and suspended.
Selected for State of Origin, he put on yet another cheap high shot and provoked a brawl. In round 18 he was cited and again suspended for a headbutt, which again had instigated a brawl. After round 22 an inebriated Gallen got into a fight with one his own teammates.
As Gallen put it last year: “We’ve got a motto here at the Sharks - do whatever it takes to win.” So they made him captain.
In his latest episode of bastardry, within minutes of tearing at Anthony Laffranchi’s bandage, Gallen reached between the legs of another Gold Coast player, Josh Graham, who then leapt backwards clutching his groin. Graham claimed Gallen had clutched his testicles. Gallen denied it. Based on the photographic indications and his pattern of behaviour, we can just add this to Gallen’s list of cretinous behaviour, on and off the field.
Plenty of players spoke out against Gallen last week - unusual in a game where the line between thuggery and bravery is blurred - with comments about Gallen’s dirty play from Brett White, Luke Bailey, Ashley Harrison and the former Test stars and hard men Gordon Tallis, Matt Geyer and Paul Sironen, among others.
The board of the Cronulla Sharks club is scheduled to meet tomorrow night. Good. It gives them a chance to consider that the fish rots from the head down.
The Sharks’ chief executive, Tony Zappia, has done nothing but obfuscate about the Gallen incident, spouting rubbish about Gallen “pushing the envelope”.
The team’s coach, Ricky Stuart, has maintained a craven silence throughout. The Cronulla Sharks website mentions only “an incident” that led to Gallen’s three-match suspension. The team’s principle sponsors, LG Electronics and Toyota, have said nothing public about Gallen remaining as club captain.
The club’s players have notched up 10 match suspensions and the season is barely a month old. There is something rotten inside the culture of a club that has lurched through financial crises, internal divisions and not won a premiership in 40 years of trying, since it joined the competition in 1967, the worst record in the premiership.
If ever there has been a week that underlines the fact that the power and grace that athletes display in sport does not translate into power and grace in life, last week was it.
The elite swimmer Nick D’Arcy, having just been selected to the national swimming squad for the Beijing Olympic Games, was revealed as a brawling thug.
The former champion Australian rules footballer Wayne Carey, haunted by scandal in both Australia and the United States, gave an excruciating performance in an interview with Andrew Denton on ABC TV’s Enough Rope, which revealed him as a moral midget in white loafers.
Gallen, protected by a team uniform and the National Rugby League, engaged in behaviour self-evidently outside the moral boundaries of society - and was then hit with a feather by the NRL. Why on Earth would responsible parents allow their sons to play rugby league when players can breach the criminal law with impunity?
In this Olympics year, let’s not delude ourselves that championship form in sport is a pointer to championship form in life. It is ruthless, obsessional bastards who often get the glory.