Paul Gallen and Lucas Browne want you to think they hate each other’s guts ahead of their fight in Wollongong tomorrow night, but when you strip them back to their upbringing, the two men have plenty in common.
“There are eight or nine different connections between my family and Gallen’s family,” Browne told Wide World of Sports.
“I grew up in Auburn. His grandparents lived on the same street as my grandparents. Someone’s aunty married one of my cousins and all this sort of thing.”
Growing up in Sydney’s south-west, Gallen and Browne both played junior football in the Parramatta Eels system but a few years apart.
Gallen’s blistering reason for Browne’s success
Gallen grew up in Greystanes and played for Wentworthville as a junior. He played a season with the Eels’ S. G. Ball team with Eels great Luke Burt.
But such was the competitive nature of Parramatta’s junior ranks at the time, the Sharks premiership hero couldn’t get a look in, forcing him to reach out to a Cronulla trainer that he knew. As they say in the classics, the rest is history.
A few years earlier, Browne rocked up to an open trial for the under-15s Harold Matthews team and wowed Parramatta officials with his size, snaring a spot on the team in the front-row.
He played with legends of the club and made the under-17s team on the wing over the next couple of years, but the harsh realities of the outside world meant he had to grow up quick.
Gal and Sonny size each other up
“I played with (Nathan) Hindmarsh and (Nathan) Cayless and those boys back in the day,” Browne added.
“But I wasn’t getting paid. I played the under 15s and played the 17s. I then made the 18s.
“In the Harold Matthews I was a front-rower; in the S. G. Ball I was playing on the wing. Six foot four, 100 kilos playing on the wing.
“School had finished and unfortunately I got kicked out of the house at 17 so I had to make a decision about making money. I didn’t have the love of the game.
“I liked playing footy because I liked hurting people but I didn’t love playing football so I gave it away during that time.”
Browne said an argument with his family left him couch-surfing with friends as a teenager and he never went back to his family home.
“I’m one of those people I don’t like being told what to do,” he said. I have an issue with authority.
Paul Gallen discusses his upcoming fight with Lucas Browne
“My parents weren’t exactly happy with me at that time. I spoke my mind about my brother’s girlfriend at the time.
“They said ‘You live under my roof this is what has to happen.’ It didn’t happen and they kicked me out.
“They expected me to come running back with my tail between my legs but it never happened. My hard-headedness and ego got the better of me and that was it; I never went back.”
To put food on the table Browne worked as a bouncer in Kings Cross and even had a crack at being a singer of sorts, auditioning for Australian Idol. But one night he caught an Eels game on television featuring some of his former teammates, sparking thoughts of ‘what if’.
“So I went back and played for St Mary’s Leagues in A-Grade for a season,” he said.
Browne challenges Gal
“I wanted to see if I wanted to do it. I played well but I didn’t want to do it. I was happy with my decision to not play again. I would have played first grade I think.”
From there, Browne discovered combat sports, initially forging a career in Mixed Martial Arts. His record stood at six wins and two losses, even taking to the cage against future UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier early in his career in Sydney.
Cormier opened him up with a vicious elbow according to Browne, finishing him off with punches to hand the Aussie his first defeat in the sport. Browne lost two of his last three fights in MMA, opening the door to a boxing career at the age of 30. While his career was building steam on the way to a world title six years later, Browne said he and Gallen had crossed paths numerous times in the past.
“A couple of times I had a fight overseas and the Australian team was at the airport at the same time,” he said.
“We had a good handshake and all that sort of stuff. I’ve never had bad blood towards him but of course the more he talks about me the more it gets personal.”
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