Rugby League: Connolly the last action hero

Wigan's great centre has a unique standing in the modern game.

HE'S A bit of a legend, is Gary Connolly. Throughout rugby league, and even in union circles, they speak with hushed awe of his pace and stamina. That's just on a night out; he's a pretty useful player as well.

"It's been exaggerated all my career," he says of his reputation as Wigan's Good Time Charlie. "People have taken it the wrong way. I like going out with the lads for a drink and a laugh, but there's a time and a place for it. You've got be responsible. I'm always here when I should be and I'm one of the best trainers at the club."

His coach, John Monie, does not disagree with any of that - although, like all Connolly's coaches, he has kept a dubious eye on his liquid intake. "He's an enigma," he said. "He has his injury problems and you see him struggling on his dodgy knee at training, but he lives with it and keeps up a remarkable level of consistency in games. He's so durable, but he's also got so much pace. And he's the only fellow who's beaten Malcolm Reilly at arm-wrestling."

That makes Connolly an enigma bordering on a freak. His remarkable combination of speed and strength is achieved despite burning the candle at both ends and sometimes in the middle. Kris Radlinski took his life in his hands by going on an end of season trip to Tenerife with him last year. "He's slowing down a bit now he's getting older," he said.

But, at 27, Connolly remains the exception who proves that it is still possible to be an outstanding player without adopting monastic vows. "I've no doubt that he's the stand-out centre in the English game," Monie said. "He's a real talent, but what he's really known for are his defensive qualities. Even when you see him up against someone like Paul Newlove, nothing gets past him at all."

As will probably be evident in tonight's battle with Leeds for a place in Super League's Grand Final. His centre partner today, Danny Moore, would vouch for that. When he makes the first tackle low and Connolly comes in second to wrap up man and ball simultaneously, Moore just feels the air go out of the victim.

The damage is done by a player who looks physically innocuous. The features of a choirboy - albeit rather a raffish one - and the constitution of an ox; that's Gary Connolly.

A fascinating player is now at a fascinating stage of his career. One of the British players to sign for the Australian Rugby League during the upheavals of 1995, he is due to join a club - it could be any club - there in June. Negotiations to keep him at Wigan instead have gone on longer than a Tenerife pub-crawl. "I've played in Australia before and liked it out there. But if Wigan's offer was the same, I'd probably stay," he said.

One effect of his ARL contract has been that Connolly has not played for Great Britain since 1994. "I'd been there and done that, so that eased it for me. I was really disappointed, but it gave me the chance to have a rest and also the chance to play rugby union, which was something I wanted to do." Connolly's spell at Harlequins was the most successful of that code-crossing winter, with his tackling making a particular impact. "All the lads there were great with me; better than I thought they would be," he said. The only disruption to his enjoyment came when he was misrepresented as saying that Will Carling, would not have made it in rugby league. "I never said that," he insisted. "He would have taken a lot of stick, but he would have come through and made it."

If his rugby league form suffered last season from year-round activity, he has been back to his best for Wigan this time. "I've had some good games and some bad games," he said, cautiously. "As long as I feel I've gone out and tried my hardest I'm reasonably happy."

Two of the games with which he is not entirely happy were, logically enough, the two Super League defeats by Leeds. "When you've had defeats like those, you go back and think that you could have done this, could have done that. We could have won both games."

Connolly rates Leeds' first-choice centres, Richie Blackmore and Brad Godden, as the best pair he has faced this season. "A lot of people didn't know who Godden was when he arrived this season. He's a typically good Australian defender, but he's also very good when he gets into the open."

But Godden won't be Connolly's toughest opponent. That title is reserved for Reilly, the competitive former Great Britain coach, who met his match with the deceptively callow 20-year-old on the 1992 Australasian tour. Reilly, who describes Connolly in his autobiography as "a bit of a wild boy who loves nothing better than a night out at a club and a late party", took delight in being able to arm-wrestle all his players into submission. Not Connolly. "He didn't take it too well," the player recalled. "He called me a cheat and everything. He's been trying to get the better of me ever since."

As plenty of others have found, you have to get up early in the morning - or stay out very late at night - to do that.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: PMLD Teacher A specialist primary school i...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links