I CAN only imagine how devastated my old teammate Paul Gallen felt when he was forced to pull out of last night’s State of Origin decider with injury.
Injuries are an occupational hazard in rugby league, but some are more painful than others.
And for Gal, the foot problem that cost him his spot as NSW skipper must have been an absolute killer.
Gal is the ultimate big-game player and last night was touted as perhaps the biggest game in Origin history.
For NSW, it was a chance to end seven long years of Queensland dominance.
Gal has been involved in all seven of those series.
He has shed more blood for the Blues than most blokes, yet year after year has been left to watch the Maroons lift the trophy.
Last night should have been his chance to get one back. Instead he was a spectator.
Having played four years alongside Gal at Cronulla, I know from first-hand experience what a great competitor he is. When I arrived at the Sharks in 2008, Brett Kimmorley was the captain but Gal was a leader in his own right.
You only had to watch him at training and in games to feel inspired.
In my two Origin games, he was just the same. The sort of player everyone wants in their side and nobody enjoys playing against.
He’s one of the great players in the game today but because he has stayed loyal to Cronulla has never played in a grand final.
Because of that, playing in an Origin decider would have meant the world to him and it’s an injustice he missed out last night. Hopefully next year he’ll get a chance to make amends.
Speaking of former teammates, another fella I’ve played a lot of footy with will need to be contained by the Knights at Penrith on Sunday.
Luke Walsh and I came up through juniors and the lower grades together, often playing a year ahead of our age group.
Walshy and Jarrod Mullen were hot property in the junior reps and looked like forming a great partnership in first grade before Walshy left for Penrith.
A lot of people doubted if Luke would handle it in the NRL because of his lack of size.
All I can say is he has played more than 100 games for the Panthers, so he must be doing something right.
Walshy is never going to get through 30 tackles a game, but he’s one of the best organisers and tactical kickers in the competition.
I think the Panthers have earned more repeat sets this year than other team, so that says something about his ability to get the ball into the in-goal.
In the last few weeks he’s hit form, and it is no coincidence that Penrith have been stringing some wins together.
At the start of the season, the Panthers were widely tipped to challenge for the wooden spoon, but after 16 games they have a 50-50 record and sit one spot below us on the ladder in seventh.
I guess it just shows what can be achieved when young blokes get their chance. They’re playing with a lot of enthusiasm and confidence and it’s going to be a great challenge for us on Sunday.
We beat Penrith 8-6 at home earlier in the season and a lot was said about how flat we were, but perhaps the Panthers didn’t get enough credit.
We certainly won’t be underestimating them second time around.
This is a crucial game for us. We’ve won two in a row, are fresh after the bye, and want to get on a roll. If we can string together four or five wins on the trot we’ll be in the running for a decent position in the play-offs and possibly a home final.
No doubt Penrith are thinking the same way.
Those are usually the best games to play in, when you have two teams chasing two points that really count for something.
Hopefully, by full-time on Sunday we’ve banked those points and are one step closer to our goal.