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Sharks confirm Gallen to play on in 2018

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 16/06/2017 Steve Zemek

It's official. Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen will play on in the NRL in 2018.

After the 35-year-old warhorse shelved retirement plans last month, coach Shane Flanagan confirmed on Friday he will be offered a new deal

It means Gallen is set go around for an 18th year, which will see him equal fellow Sharks great Andrew Ettingshausen for most seasons in the top grade, according to Fox Sports Stats.

Gallen, who stepped down from Australian and NSW representative duties at the end of last season, was expected to hang up his boots at the end of the 2017 NRL campaign.

But after starting the year like a man 10 years his junior and not being burdened by a heavy State of Origin workload, Gallen is poised to soon lock in a one-year contract extension.

"He'll definitely play again next year," Flanagan said.

"We're well and truly down the track of talking to his management and that'll be resolved in the next couple of weeks.

"We said to Gal that when the time was right and he felt it was right and he was playing well and he wanted to play again, then we'd do it.

"We're not looking at his birth certificate. The way he plays and trains is the most important thing for us."

Just as well the Sharks aren't judging their talisman by his date of birth - he'll be 37 by the time the 2018 season comes to an end.

This year Gallen has averaged 172 metres per game, the second most for a forward in the competition.

His presence shapes as key for the third-placed Sharks over the Origin period with the side gripped by a representative player drain.

Andrew Fifita, James Maloney, Valentine Holmes, Jack Bird and Wade Graham will all be missing for Cronulla's clash with Wests Tigers on Saturday night.

"He's crucial to our whole year," Flanagan said of Gallen.

"To have him fresh is the most important part. He's not coming off the back of too many games back-to-back.

"He's fit and healthy and ready to go.

"To have his experience around the group, we've got a couple of players coming into the squad that haven't played a lot of first grade, it gives those players a lot of confidence."

The Tigers welcome back halfback Luke Brooks from a hamstring injury and he will partner mid-season recruit Tui Lolohea in the halves for the first time.

Ivan Cleary's team will be without skipper Aaron Woods and star fullback James Tedesco due to Origin duty.

STATS THAT MATTER

* The Tigers won 15 of the opening 21 fixtures between these two sides but have now lost five of the past seven.

* The Sharks have conceded the least amount of points (13.2) and tries (2.1) per game this season.

* Chris Heighington moves into the top 20 for appearances in the NRL with his 308th appearance, breaking his deadlock with Brett Kimmorley.

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