Written by Callum Walker
Despite playing nine seasons with Wigan, Gary Connolly began his career at St Helens, debuting for the Lancashire club in 1988 aged just 16.
Over the course of six seasons, Connolly – who played as a fullback and winger, but mainly a centre – made 133 appearances, scoring 46 tries. He won just one winners’ medal at Saints – the 1991 Lancashire County Cup – before leaving for Wigan for a massive £250,000 fee in 1993 at the age of 21.
Prior to his move to Wigan, however, Connolly played 15 games in the 1993 New South Wales Rugby League for Canterbury Bulldogs, scoring five tries. The three-quarter played the best rugby of his career whilst at Wigan, scoring 136 tries and kicking six goals in 309 appearances. Before the creation of Super League in 1996, Connolly and Wigan won the Regal Trophy twice in successive years – 1995 and 1996.
In the inaugural Super League season, he was named in the Dream Team – he would be included in three more – two whilst at Wigan and one whilst at Leeds in 2003. The first Super League Grand Final was fought between Wigan and Leeds in 1998 with Connolly and the Warriors triumphing 10-4.
The Merseysider won his first Challenge Cup Final in 2002 as part of a Wigan side that humbled St Helens 21-12. Upon the completion of the 2002 season, Connolly – at the age of 31 – made the move to West Yorkshire with Leeds his next destination.
In his first season – 2003 – he helped the Rhinos to a Challenge Cup Final place against Bradford. Though Bradford secured the trophy by the slenderest of margins – the game finished 22-20 – Connolly, playing at fullback, won the Lance Todd trophy for a superb man-of-the-match performance.
He remained at Leeds for two years, registering 33 appearances and scoring eight tries before moving to Widnes ahead of the 2005 season. In 21 games, Connolly notched four tries and one goal. The end of 2005 signalled not only the fullback’s last year with Widnes, but also his last year in Rugby League with the versatile back moving to Rugby Union side Munster, aged 34.
As a St Helens player, the Englishman made his debut for Great Britain and England, playing 31 times for the former and scoring one try, whilst earning three caps for the latter. He also registered one appearance for Ireland in 1998.
An excellent defender with speed to burn, Gary Connolly – though making his debut eight years before the creation of Super League – was a formidable character in the summer game. Whether at centre or fullback, the St Helens-born Connolly very rarely disappointed and at 6 ft and weighing just over 14 stone, his physical presence often gave him the edge over his opponents.