Written by Callum Walker
Despite being born in Wigan, Martin Gleeson spent some of his earlier years in Australia after his family’s emigration when he was just ten years old. Gleeson and his family returned when he was 17 and he embarked on a Rugby League career in Britain, signing with Huddersfield Giants in 1999 as a 19-year old.
Gleeson – operating as a centre – had a faltering start to his career, being part of the Huddersfield-Sheffield Giants merger that failed spectacularly with the club’s relegation at the end of 2001. For the Giants though, he was a constant figure in the side despite his early age, playing 60 games in three seasons and scoring 18 tries.
With Huddersfield’s relegation from the Super League, Gleeson moved to St Helens. It was a transfer that kickstarted the centre’s career. In four seasons at Knowsley Road, the powerful three-quarter scored 30 tries in 67 appearances and made his Great Britain debut whilst at the club in 2002.
Gleeson was part of the St Helens side that won the 2002 Grand Final and 2004 Challenge Cup as well the team that lost the 2003 World Club Challenge. A betting scandal cut short his career at Saints, however, with a four-month ban at the end of 2004 the catalyst for his move to Warrington Wolves for a reported club-record transfer fee of £200,000.
Gleeson enjoyed a great first season for the Wire, recording a personal best scoring tally of 17 tries in 27 Super League appearances, and he was named at centre in the 2005 Super League Dream Team. The formidable three-quarter was at Warrington for the longest spell in his career, scoring 48 tries in 115 appearances in four-and-a-half seasons before a move to Wigan in April 2009 came about.
Though Gleeson was at Wigan for just one full season (2010) – he did spend the majority of 2009 at the club, but only three months of 2011 – he was a pivotal part of the Warriors side that beat rivals St Helens in the 2010 Grand Final, scoring two tries as Wigan secured their first championship title since 1998.
Amid growing speculation, the Wigan club released a statement in March 2011 saying that he had left his hometown club with immediate effect citing his injury, disciplinary problems and a “serious distraction in his personal life” as the reasons for the departure.
It wasn’t long before Gleeson was snapped up by another club with Hull FC his next destination. Though he made a try scoring début in the 36–18 thrashing of bitter city rivals Hull KR in the Good Friday derby at the KC Stadium, in June it was announced that the two-time Grand Final winner was suffering a stress related illness and he was granted leave by the club.
Gleeson’s contract with the club was terminated in September after scoring five tries in seven games. In December 2011 it was announced that the then 31-year old had failed a drugs test on 13 May in a game against Salford in which he scored two tries. He was subsequently banned for three years (with half being suspended) from 12 June which was his final game for the club against Harlequins RL. It was a sad moment for a player that had once been one of the greatest centres in Super League.
Though it was the end of his Hull FC career, Gleeson’s Rugby League career lived on and, in November 2012, the then-named Salford City Reds snapped him up on a two-year deal. Gleeson enjoyed something of a revival at Salford, scoring four tries in 30 games before retiring in September 2015 aged 35.
The centre’s superb spells at St Helens and Warrington led to him earning Great Britain and England caps. From 2002 until his last appearance for England in the 2008 World Cup, Gleeson donned the Lions shirt 20 times and the England shirt six, scoring three tries for the former and eight for the latter.
One of the most physical and skilful centres to have played Super League, it was a great shame that Martin Gleeson’s off-field problems plagued the latter part of his career. Yet, on his day, there were very few who could match him.
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