Paul Gallen: What are these punches doing to my brain?

Paul Gallen is giving increasing consideration to the effect that rugby league and boxing have had on his brain health.

“For the first time it has crossed my mind,” Gallen said before Wednesday’s bout against Kris Terzievski for the Australian and Australasian heavyweight titles at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre.

“I’ve definitely thought this year that I have a wonderful job in the media, I really enjoy TV and radio, I really enjoy rugby league.

“I don’t want to get five years down the track and all of a sudden I’m ‘dudududududududu’, stuttering and umming and ahhing.

“I still want everything intact, to be able to talk clearly and know what I’m talking about basically.

“All the other things are part and parcel of the game now. There’s no doubt we’re going to have issues at some stage in life because of the game we played and how hard we played it.

“I want to know what I’m talking about, that’s the biggest thing.

“I won’t know what impact boxing or rugby league has had on me for another five or 10 years down the track. I don’t want to get to that stage and be no good.

“Without doubt, I’ve thought about it, but it’s not controlling what I do at the moment.

“I’m still prepared to jump in the ring and have a go.”

Gallen has forged a reputation for being one of the fiercest competitors in Australian sport after a 19-year, 348-game NRL career as a middle forward that also included 32 Tests for Australia and 24 State of Origin appearances. He has shown no signs of slowing down, extending his boxing record to 12 wins and only one loss (plus one draw, against Barry Hall).

The former Cronulla captain said it is becoming increasingly difficult to physically recover from training sessions as he edges towards his 41st birthday and said his brain health was also a consideration in how long he continues to box.

“I won’t know what impact boxing or rugby league has had on me for another five or 10 years down the track. I don’t want to get to that stage and be no good.”

“I was never knocked out,” Gallen said of his league career.

“I’ve had two concussion tests ever in my life, one of them I didn’t need. One was against the Roosters, I got up and stumbled a bit. It was when [the protocols] first came in, I passed it and went straight back on the field.

“To be honest, I don’t really worry about it yet. I look at players from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. I work with Gus [Phil] Gould and he would have copped punishment when the game was far more brutal than when I played and he’s a smart man who can talk really well.

“I look at people who play rugby league, they have trouble with their head, issues like amnesia.

“There’s a few more former rugby league players who have come out with problems in their head but that might have happened anyway, we don’t know.

“I’m not going to ruin my life or control what I do at this point in time. I’ll continue to do what I do, but I don’t want to push the envelope either. That’s why I’m going to retire this year.”

Gallen said the clash with Terzievski could be his last and, if it wasn’t, he was a “99.9 per cent” chance of retiring this year. His bout is part of a stacked card that includes headliners Harry Garside, Nikita Tszyu and Sam Goodman.

All the fighters on the eight-card show weighed in without incident at Newcastle’s Civic Centre. There is plenty of bravado displayed during the obligatory face-offs, but Garside – who faces off against Tasmanian lightweight Layton McFerran – said fear also plays its part.

“I saw confidence, but I also saw he was scared,” Garside said after the stare-off.

“The same things are going through my mind, I’m not lying, that’s for sure. We’re all fearful, we’re all scared. But at the same time there is an air of confidence in our eyes.”

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