CRONULLA premiership-winner Paul Gallen has been afforded his highest honour, named the Sharks’ greatest captain in their 50-year history at a gala ball at Darling Harbour on Friday night.
In front of more than 650 members of past and present administration, current and ex-players, their wives and partners and also NRL CEO Todd Greenberg and ARL chairman John Grant, an emotional Gallen fought back tears after being selected in Cronulla’s Team of the Half Century, alongside six of his 2016 premiership teammates, including head coach Shane Flanagan.
The current Sharks selected alongside Gallen in the esteemed 17-man squad were five-eighth James Maloney, winger Valentine Holmes, tear-away forward Andrew Fifita and retired hooker Michael Ennis.
“I’m truly humbled by tonight,’’ Gallen, who guided the club to their first premiership last year, said.
“The incredible people and players who are standing up on this stage with me here, are the same people who inspired me to sign with this great club, 15 years ago.
“This is a special night, an unbelievable honour and a night which I’m sure all of the 17 players and Shane, can say is one we’ll never forget.’’
Voted on by fans and members before being whittled down by an independent selection panel of judges, the Team of the Half Century was flush with rugby league royalty, resilience and first-class service to the Sharks, dating back to their inception in 1967.
Club immortals Steve Rogers, Greg Pierce, Andrew Ettingshausen, Gavin Miller and Tommy Bishop were immediate and obvious selections in the 50-year team.
Ever-elusive fullback David Peachey was chosen in the No. 1 jersey, while the brilliant Mat Rogers also fought back his emotions after being named on the wing, but also in the same team as his legendary late father Steve.
Gallen was selected at lock in a star-studded back-row which included Pierce, the Sharks first player to captain Australia and who passed away last year, alongside Miller, a two-time Dally M medal winner.
Such was the influence and skill which Miller possessed when running the football, the late and great super coach Jack Gibson would often tell his players: “Wherever Gavin goes, you go.’’
With a long-list of quality prop-forwards to have played with the Sutherland Shire club over the past 50 years, the undeniable impact of Great Britan’s Cliff Watson on the Sharks between 1971 and 1973 saw him chosen in the front-row alongside, one of the club’s hardest and most-committed club-men, 217-game Kiwi International, Dane Sorensen.
Fifita, the Sharks’ grand final try hero, sealed his status as a club great with selection on the interchange bench.
Influential halfback and former captain Brett Kimmorley was also a deserved selection, while one of the game’s most feared forwards during the late 1970s, Kangaroos froward Steve Kneen joined former NSW Origin and Test prop Jason Stevens, as must inclusions on the bench.
However, selecting the 17-best players over 50-years wasn’t without rich debate and controversy among the judging panel with a string of former stars narrowly missing out on selection.
Considered unlucky not to have been selected were Clive Churchill medallist Luke Lewis, long-serving former captain David Hatch, Kiwi international Kurt Sorensen, fearless forward Les Davidson, the clever and cunning former hooker Ron Turner, 1973 grand final five-eighth Chris Wellman and former Test centre Mark McGaw.
Named as the club’s best coach in 50 years, Flanagan’s delivery of a first premiership got him the honour ahead of much-respected candidates John Lang, Norm Provan and Bishop