Sean Gleeson, who was playing for Hull Kingston Rovers at the time having left Wigan Warriors, suffered a fractured cheek bone and has been left partly blind in his right eye following the violence.
Club-goer Lee Jones, whose ‘side-winder’ punch is believed to have caused the damage, was cleared of affray and his friend, Terrance Riley, who had exchanged blows with the player, was given a community sentence.
A judge who heard the trial of Jones said today, “In my view the incident was provoked and initiated by Sean Gleeson.”
The life-changing injuries have ended Gleeson’s professional rugby career.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that 25-year-old Riley had gone into Wigan town centre to celebrate his brother’s birthday with friends and they all ended up in the Ibiza club in King Street.
Inside the premises there was an incident between Gleeson, who was holding a bottle, and Riley and Gleeson was ejected by the bouncers. About 15 minutes later at about 4am Riley, Jones and their friends decided to leave but when they went outside Gleeson was still there abusively remonstrating with the door staff.
CCTV footage showed that on the steps there was a confrontation which quickly turned to violence between Riley and Gleeson.
“The CCTV shows the two of you effectively grappling with each other and going into the middle of the road and both swinging punches at each other,” said the judge.
“Gleeson went to the floor and if you had walked away then I do not suppose you would be here today but the CCTV shows while he was on the floor you took the opportunity to strike him once or twice.
“You took off, he got to his feet and then two or three seconds later he was struck a heavy blow by Jones. That blow was thrown by him in lawful self-defence,” said Recorder Lasker.
He told Riley that he had not gone out that night looking for trouble “but unluckily trouble found you.” He added that Riley, who has no convictions for violence, was not responsible for Gleeson’s injuries or initiating violence. “You are however guilty of acting in a way that you should not have done having been drinking.
“Brawling in the street in the early hours of the morning with the public walking past is something the courts will not tolerate.”
He imposed a 12 month community order and also ordered him to carry out 100 hours unpaid work.
Martin Walsh, defending, said that the incident between Gleeson and Riley had been relatively short lived. It had not caused serious injury and Gleeson had “brought this on himself.”
Riley, of Harrison Drive, Haydock, had pleaded guilty to affray on March 1 last year. Jones, 22, of Alder Avenue, Ashton-in-Makerfield denied that offence and a jury accepted that he had acted in self-defence. He broke down in tears after being acquitted.
He had told the jury that after the incident between Gleeson and his friend, Gleeson, who was by then bare chested, came towards him with his fists clenched.
He said he was scared and fearing that he was about to be attacked he punched him to the side of the face once. He accepted that his blow was probably the one that caused the damage to his sight.
Gleeson, whose career had also involved playing for Widnes, Salford and Wakefield, denied that he had been the trouble maker that night and said the attacks on him were unprovoked.
He had to undergo surgery for his injuries including metal plates and mesh inserted into his cheek bone. He told how it had ended his career and said if he received further blows to that area “it could kill me.”
He refuted suggestions by defence barrister Brian McKenna that he was telling lies.