In having a week from hell, I’ve been unable until now to write about one of the most intriguing stories to emerge this season: Martin Gleeson transferring from Warrington to Wigan. It’s an interesting move in many regards, and I’m still trying to work out who benefits most from this move.
With a lot of the talk around Gleeson, you would think he was finished as a player. This is far from the case: even in the horrific massacre at Quins, Gleeson was by far and away the most potent attacking weapon that the Wolves had. He was one of the few England players at the world cup who seemed to come out of it with any stock left, even impressing somewhat when forced out of position at Stand-Off against the Kiwis in the final group game. He’s still probably a 1st choice centre for the England team, although he’s finally coming under some pressure from the likes of Michael Shenton. There’s little doubt in my mind that Gleeson is a player still with a lot to offer.
So, why would Warrington want to get rid of one of their most potent attacking weapons? Well, I’m sure you will have all heard of the rumours about the ‘culture‘ at the club, and I suspect that this is part of a grand statement on Tony Smith’s part to try and get other people at the club to buck up their ideas. The biggest mystery about the Warrington club has been how they have failed to be equal to the sum of their parts, and I think Smith feels the need for a fresh start at the club; if that means losing one of your best players in order for a long-term gain, then so be it. Of course, whether it actually turns out that way remains to be seen, and Warrington’s results over the Easter weekend (losses to Salford and Castleford) seem to show that dumping Gleeson is far from the only piece of the jigsaw needed to solve that particular puzzle. I very much doubt they did it for the personnel they got in return either, as replacing the departing Stuart Reardon with Richie Mathers is just replacing one injury-prone Full-Back with another.
So why would Wigan take part in this transaction? Well, the obvious point is that they get one of the Centres in the competition, and the price they had to pay for him (a £100,000 transfer fee, Mathers) is actually relatively cheap. Added to which is the fact that Brian Noble has worked fairly extensively with Gleeson before for Great Britain, and no doubt rates him as a quality player. Gleeson in time might also help to solve what has been Wigan’s glaring problem this seaon: a lack of cutting edge. Okay, that’s not quite fair (Wigan have made the most clean breaks so far this season, although they’ve also played a game more at this stage) but there is a definite problem with their finishing ability, best exemplified in the Saints game when they spent an eternity in the St Helens quarter, only to come away with a single (borderline) try. Gleeson should in time add an extra layer of attacking threat to a fairly mundane backline (Shaun Ainscough excepted).
Of course, the one problem with this is that Centre play, particularly interaction with the winger, is something that is developed over time, and simply dropping Gleeson into the starting XIII and hoping that he’ll work instant magic is not something that is going to work. It was noticeable in both of Wigan’s games over Easter just how many plays for Wigan seemed to break down on the right side, when Gleeson either received the ball or was the intended target. Does this make him a bad player? Not at all, but he needs to work out his timing and tune his instincts to be in line with those of Amos Roberts. This is the sort of thing that would be ideally sorted out during pre-season, but Gleeson and Wigan are going to have to do this on the fly. It seems rather symptomatic of Wigan that they feel the need to buy in a player during the season in order to sort out their problems when it would be much more sensible to work out this problems before the season begins, but I guess the management there just have a reactionary style.
And what does Gleeson get out of this? Well, he gets to move to probably the most prestigious club in the game, and to his hometown team. He gets a change of scenery, and he gets to work with a coach with whom he’s had a fair degree of international success. He also gets away from Warrington, and the gaze of Tony Smith, and you suspect he thinks that’s a good thing. What he doesn’t now get is a move to the NRL, which was strongly rumoured to be happening at this end of this season, and it’s this that I find most surprising about this whole endeavor. Although it’s admirable that Gleeson has moved out of his comfort zone somewhat, you can’t help but feel that a move down under would have sharpened his focus even more. He’s had a fairly rocky start to his Wigan career so far, but that’s be expected (you don’t get a more high-pressure debut than the Wigan-Saints Good Friday game) and it remains to be seen just how good he can be for the Warriors.
This move is intriguing because so many of the parties involved have a lot to either gain or lose from the venture, and the coming months will show us just who the winners and losers in this deal really are. Personally, I suspect that Wigan will have the greater short-to-mid term gains, as they gain a needed attacking threat whilst Warrington lose one. However, if this does eventually lead to a shift in the cultural paradigm at the Halliwell Jones, then this might be looked back on as the start of something good, although I’m not convinced that it’s enough and is a very risky sacrifice on Tony Smith’s part. As for Gleeson, he gets a chance to escape the mess at Warrington and move to a slightly better positioned Wigan, and if he helps them gain the consistency that they sorely need to climb up the table, then he’ll probably do alright out of this deal as well.