NRLCronulla skipper Paul Gallen reckons the Newcastle Knights won’t be a consistent top-eight side for “two or three years”. Can they earn his respect on Sunday?

HE has been arguably their harshest critic over the past few seasons, and the Newcastle Knights are running out of opportunities to earn the respect of Cronulla warhorse Paul Gallen.
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OUTSPOKEN: Paul Gallen

TheSharks visitBeanies for Brain Cancer Stadium on Sunday and will be intent on racking up their seventh consecutive victory against Newcastle, a streak dating back to 2015.

The two teams also clash at SharkPark on Sunday, August 26, in the penultimate round of the season.

Gallen is yet to make a decision about his playing future, but given that he is the NRL’s oldest player and turns 37 in less than three months, 2018 could well be his last hurrah.

If that is the case, the Knights have only two more chances to impress one of the champions of the modern era.

Gallen has certainly pulled no punches in recent times with brutally honest assessments of Newcastle’s performances and prospects.

In particular, he struck a raw nerve last November when he declared Mitchell Pearce “might live to regret” his decision to sign for the three-time wooden spooners, rather than Cronulla, after he left Sydney Roosters.

In a column on sportingnews老域名出售 website, Gallen declared: “In my opinion, Newcastle are two or three years away from beinga consistent top eight side.

“As for winning competitions, well, I just can’t see that happening for a long, long time … I fear Mitch’s rep career may be a casualty of having to do it all at club level.”

That prompted Knights coach Nathan Brown to respond by suggesting that Gallen was “probably a little disappointed because his window of winning another comp is closing”.

Brown added that in 2014, “Cronulla were last, they haddrugs charges against them, they were going nowhere”.

Gallen hit back at what he labelled a “low blow” and a “cheap shot” from Brown, and reiterated his belief that Pearce was taking “a risk footy-wise” in joining the Knights.

“Talking of clubs going nowhere, maybe three straight wooden spoons indicate that Newcastle are the ones treading water,” he wrote.

Gallen’s dismissive attitude towards the Knights has been something of a recurring theme. Few were arguing with him after the Sharks inflicteda 62-0 slaughter in Newcastle in 2016.

“To be fair, and not to be too critical, the side we played against today were very inexperienced and there wouldn’t be too many players who played for Newcastle today who would make any other first-grade side, really,’’ Gallen said at the time.

“We just did what we had to do. And that’s [we] went well and held them to nil.’’

If that was just a candid, andvalid, observation, there was a touch of arrogance 10 weeks later when Cronulla beat the Knights 36-4 at Shark Park and Gallen was asked about a confrontation with rookie Newcastle forward Mitch Barnett.

After initially claiming he thought Barnett was“a winger”, Gallen said with a laugh:“There you go. I don’t even know his name, that’s how much I care.’’

Asked after training on Thursday if his players would want to prove a point on Sunday, Brown replied:“I think if Gal watched us in the first 10 roundsor so, when we had Mitchell and those guys on board, maybe he’d think:‘Maybe these blokes are a little better than I thought’… but we’ve obviously lost a few troops since then, and we’ve lost our last few games, so he’s probably thinking he was right at theminute.

“But I would think that Cronulla would come here, and every side that is playing us these dayscertainly hasfar greater respect for us today than they did this time last year, that’s for sure.”

Meanwhile, Brown said centre Nathan Ross, who had been in doubt with a groin injury,“trained very, very well” on Thursday and should be fit to tackle the Sharks.

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