By STEVE MASCORD
THIS is kind of like interviewing a Wests Tigers fan. Keith Galloway wasn’t sighted from round two to round 20 this year due to a pectoral muscle tear.
He’s been sitting in the stands with us.
If a week is a long time in rugby league, 18 weeks is an eternity. In that period, Wests Tigers have floundered and dropped from finals contention and star player Benji Marshall has decided to depart for rugby union.
“It was out of my hands. I was in the rehab squad,” the 27-year-old Galloway says more than once during our chat at Concord Oval, about what he has seen unfold in 2013.
The club’s fans know how Keith feels. The arrival of new coach Michael Potter was supposed to tighten up Wests Tigers’ defence, give their attack more structure, end the days of playing off the cuff.
But the transition has proven harder, and more complicated, than perhaps even Potter expected.
“Obviously we had those two really good years in 2010, 2011 when we had the team to win the grand final – or very close – on both occasions,’’ says Galloway, all 107kg of him.
“There’ve been other years when we’ve been up there and down. This year’s been tough – I think everyone knows that. Our injury toll’s been massive. There are probably some guys who’ve played … not before they’re ready but they’ve got their chances through injury. They’re going to benefit from that.
“They’ve really stepped up and proven themselves. It’s a young squad but I think it’s going to be a strong squad. There’ll be a lot of first grade experience at such a young age and hopefully that holds us in good stead for next year and beyond.
“I came into first grade when I was 17 and I felt like the young guy for years but now I really feel like an old guy with all these youngsters around.”
Despite the disappointments, the former Cronulla prop had no hesitation in re-signing for three more years during his convalescence. The reason for this, he says, was simple. Given that he has in that rehab group, he was flattered just to be asked.
“I wasn’t able to play footy and put my best foot forward to sign a contract,” he explains. “That was what I’ve done in previous years to get a contract. The Tigers were really keen to sign me.
“When they showed that much interest and desire to keep me, it was a pretty easy decision to stay loyal to the club. I’ve been here seven years now. It feels like home.”
Big Keith is a nice fellow, although you get the impression he doesn’t feel like he’s earned the right to say much yet this year. His unannounced comeback came a couple of weeks ago in Monday Night Football against Manly and with no finals on the horizon, his aims are necessarily short term.
A NSW and Australia rep in 2011, he at least has a Scotland Bravehearts World Cup jersey to aspire to over the next couple of months.
“They’ve enquired and I’ve told them it’s definitely an option,” Galloway reveals. “I just wanted to get back on the field with the Tigers and play a few games before I made any sort of decision.
“I’m definitely proud of my Scottish heritage. If I went down that path, it would be great to represent them. Dad was born over there. His side of the family is all from there.
“The last World Cup, I was in their 40-man squad and I had to have surgery as soon as the World Cup was over. I was excited to play for them but obviously if you’ve got to have surgery, you’ve got to have it. “
The Wests Tigers he returns to in 2014 after his industrial award- stipulated post-World Cup break will be very different. For a start, there’ll be no Marshall.
“It was a pretty big shock, eh?” he says of Marshall’s decision to accept the terms of a contract extension.
“To be honest, anyone who knows the Tigers, they know Benji …. but as a good mate I respect his decision and wish him all the best in rugby union. At the end of the day, he’ll still be a good mate and I’m proud to call him a mate. “
Losing mates used to tear at the heart of Wests Tigers. Most of them went in the opposite direction to Keith – from Concord to Cronulla. But now it’s just a fact of life.
“I probably spoke the Heighno (Chris Heighington), Gibbsy (Bryce Gibbs) , Beau Ryan in the past week,” Galloway says when asked about the unusual links between the clubs.
“When you play footy with guys for a certain number of years, you become good mates. Regardless of the team they play for or the jersey they wear, you’re not going to get rid of the friendship just because they play for another club. There’re a lot of good guys over there.
“It was a bit of a shock, some of them going. You play with good mates, you wish you could play with the same guys forever but it’s a business. We all know that. We’re trying to make a living out of it and clubs are trying to do the best. Unfortunately, that’s the way it is. That’s the way the business world works. I get paid to play footy for this club and I love this club so I’ll do the best I can for it.”
On one hand “it’s a business” but on the other, Galloway “loves” Wests Tigers. That’s a glass-half-full approach if ever there was one….
In any case, it’s likely the devil-may-care attack Wests Tigers are famous for will leave with their most famous player.
“These days,” says Galloway, “if you make a mistake, teams are going to capitalise on it. If you play off the cuff and it doesn’t work, then you’re under the pump the whole game.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t played for 80 minutes in a lot of the games. For patches in games, we’ve looked good but these top four sides, they’re another league above. They play for the whole 80 minutes. Until we get to that standard, we’re not going to be able to compete with these sides.”
As a junior, Galloway made all the representative sides. I’ve always wondered if players like him feel undue pressure to keep making those teams as an adult, and whether they judge themselves more harshly than others.
“I think when you’re making those sides as a kid, there’s a bit of an expectation that you’ll probably make the grade, that you’ll play first grade,” he answers.
“Just to play first grade, you’ve done really well. There’re a lot of good footy players I played with growing up who didn’t progress to first grade for one reason or another.
“You’ve got to be a really special talent to make these senior representative sides.
“Unfortunately I’ve had some bad injuries at bad times of the season and what-not but I’ve been lucky enough, in 2011, to get a game for the Blues and play for Australia overseas. Hopefully I can try and replicate that in the next few years but I think it helps when your team’s going well.”
Ah yes, when the team’s going well. He says it like it’s going to happen, like it’s just a matter of time. And unlike you and me. Keith Galloway is now in a position to make it happen…..
Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK