By Martin Gabor (NRL.com)
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen made it clear throughout 2016 that he wanted to win back his Test jumper.
So when he was forced from the field in his side's Round 1 loss to the Cowboys with a knee injury, the 31-Test veteran feared his international career had ended then and there, unable to put up a fight.
"When they said that it was looking the worst, me and 'Flanno' (Sharks coach Shane Flanagan) sat in a room up in Townsville and it wasn't the nicest night," Gallen said.
Initial reports were that the 34-year-old has done his ACL and would miss the rest of the year. Some people started to question whether that would be the end of his rugby league career.
But his worst fears were soon allayed as scans revealed he had instead injured his meniscus.
"Thankfully things turned out OK and I got back as quickly as I could," he said.
The NSW Blues skipper was eased back into his NRL return with a 58-minute hit-out against the Tigers in Round 5 and has quickly reached peak form with back-to-back 80-minute performances for a combined 431 metres against the Panthers and Broncos.
With 10 offloads and just one error this season, Gallen's case for selection was too good to ignore for Australian coach Mal Meninga who handed the Cronulla leader a much-deserved recall for Friday's Anzac Test against the Kiwis.
"I made it very clear at the start of the year that I wanted my Test jumper back," a determined Gallen said after Sunday's win over the Broncos.
"I had a talk to Mal a few weeks ago and we spoke about my selection for about 10 seconds and he said "you're in the mix" and the rest was about getting pride in the Australian jumper and players wanting to play for Australia.
"That's always been me. I've always wanted to play for Australia and I'm very happy to have that jumper back. I'm looking forward to Friday and putting Australia back where it belongs as the number one in the world."
Gallen was quizzed on whether he thought the green and gold jersey meant as much to players compared with the honour of playing for NSW or Queensland in State of Origin.
His response was an obvious one given his two-year hiatus from the Australian side.
"There's no shortage of passion from players who want to play for Australia," he continued.
"I think that's just the way it is, the fact that Origin is such a big beast and there's so much hype and publicity about it.
"I suppose there's not as much [hype] as an Australia game because there's only Australia, New Zealand and England. From the players' point of view – and my point of view – I love playing for Australia."
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan appeared just as happy as his club captain telling media Gallen's selection was a goal both of them had been working towards.
"At the start of the year we sat down and [discussed] how important playing for Australia was for Gal," he said.
"That was his first priority to get the Sharks off to a good start and get back his Australian Test jumper.
"We spoke about that many times and that's why after Round 1 when he was injured…in the back of his mind he was probably not going to be able to represent Australia again. I couldn't be happier for him."
Originally published as 'Gallen feared his international career was over'.
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