'Winning Hull place is last test of my career'
WHEN Ben Galea announced his retirement from rugby league last year, few would have denied the 34-year-old Australian the opportunity to walk into the sunset with his head held high.
An NRL Grand Final winner with Wests Tigers, he left in 2007 as the second most capped player and try scorer in their history.
He went on to enhance his reputation in a five-year tenure at Hull KR, and was given a hero's send-off at their final home game against Wigan last year.
But, that nagging doubt that he had one year left in his legs would not go away.
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And having been enticed to reverse his decision by Hull FC coach Peter Gentle, a man he knew well from their days together at Wests Tigers, he now finds himself as one of the few brave enough make a straight swap from red and white for black and white.
"I thought I may get a bit of stick coming here, but the boys have made it easy for me coming in," said Galea, as he dealt with the obvious first question surrounding his switch.
"Training has been excellent and the staff have been very professional, it's been fantastic."
Respected not just throughout Hull but all of Super League, Galea's acclimatisation to life in Hull was, in truth, never going to be difficult.
The biggest challenge the back-row forward faces is being a consistent presence in his side, as he has been his whole career to date.
Arriving at a club bursting at the seams with back-row forwards of all experiences from Gareth Ellis, Danny Tickle and Richard Whiting, to Joe Westerman, Liam Kent, Jay Pitts and Dean Hadley, competition is tough, and out of eight, only three can secure a starting spot.
For Galea the challenge lies in one last hurrah, an opportunity to end a hugely-successful career with one last trophy, and a chance at the age of 34 to test himself all over again.
"If you look at the way the boys are training in and around the positions I want to be in, there is a lot of competition," he said.
"If Gareth Ellis and Danny Tickle are playing nearly 80 minutes every week and Joe Westerman can do that too, then there is a lot of pressure on me to be able to bring something else to the team, because if I don't do that, I won't get in.
"That keeps me on my toes and it is a big challenge that makes me work even harder to get in this side. It's a challenge I am enjoying though."
Having made his debut in the left second row position vacated by Willie Manu, with Ellis on the right, Galea was able to get a run out against Castleford last week in his preferred role.
Tickle's fitness in the coming weeks may change that as Hull's 'Mr Consistent' edges closer to a return. So where does Galea see himself fitting into Gentle's master plan?
"I've been moving around a little bit at training and where I play will probably depend at the start of the year on the fitness of some of our other players," he adds.
"People like Liam Watts and Danny Tickle may not be ready, so what happens to those guys may affect where I play. I'll just be happy to be in the team."
Settling into his new surroundings after five years at Craven Park has been Galea's first priority.
Fortunate to have played at Wests when Gentle was there, the vastly-experienced forward says his familiarity with how his new coach works has been a big help in his transition.
"The combinations are getting there and I'm actually surprised how quickly it is coming together," he said.
"I am pretty lucky that a lot of the plays and the calls we do here are similar to the stuff that we used at Wests Tigers.
"Pete still uses a lot of stuff they used at the Tigers and that's made it easier for me because I have a good memory and still remember the old calls and plays after so long at Wests.
"I feel like I've settled in really well and now I'm just looking forward to the season getting started."