Michael Monaghan, ‘My Life In Rugby League’ 2008
Imports from the NRL are no longer have-beens on the wrong side of 30. Was it always an aim to play Super League at a comparatively early age?
Yes. I suppose it used to be the older players who came over, right at the end of their careers but, like you say, that’s definitely changing now. Younger players these days are happy to move to the Super League with the opportunity to travel and see the world as well as the standard of footy over here major factors. I certainly didn’t want to wait until I was past my best form. I’m looking forward to the faster pace over here and the fact that halfbacks have more space to play in. I feel as though I’ve got a lot to offer and I can’t wait for the season to start.
Are you happy with the Warrington squad?
Yes, there’s a lot of talent here and it’s probably the strongest squad that’s been here for a while. People have talked a lot about the new signings but there were plenty of great players here anyway. Hopefully I’ll be able to experience plenty of big games and some finals because that’s what I’m here for.
You’ve arrived with Chris Hicks who also played for Manly. Does that make it easier to settle in?
Yeah definitely. We’ve been mates for a long time and coming to England at the same time makes things easier for us both. But the other boys have been fantastic as well, welcoming us and helping us to settle in. We’re certainly not having to rely on old friendships.
When did you decide to leave Manly?
Early last season. When I re-signed with Manly two years ago, I did so as a halfback and that’s where they told me they wanted me to play. Then they signed Matt Orford from Melbourne Storm and I moved to hooker. I wasn’t unhappy to do that because I still liked it there, but I was a bit reluctant. Then, earlier last year, Matt got injured and I played five games at halfback and that spell made me want to play there again. I decided that I wanted to play halfback permanently and Manly understood that and let me go. The club only gave me two weeks to negotiate with other clubs and because it was so early in the NRL season, it wasn’t easy. Five or six NRL clubs were interested but I’d always thought about England so, in the end, I thought it was the perfect time to come over. Hull came in for me along with a couple of other clubs but it was between Hull and Warrington. The way that the Wolves went about recruiting me impressed me so I chose to come here. I spoke to Andrew Johns and Adrian Morley and they told me what a great club it is. Andrew loved his time at the club and spoke very highly of Simon Moran and Paul Cullen.
After you agreed to leave, Manly went on to enjoy their best season for over ten years with you a key figure at hooker. How do you look back on the season?
Well it was great to make the final and we played some great footy but the grand final loss to Melbourne was hard to take. When I signed for Manly in 2004, they weren’t a grand final team so it was good to be a part of that transformation. The club bought sensibly, getting players who were after an opportunity – some of us couldn’t get a start at our previous clubs – and we managed to improve each year. When I joined, Des Hasler (the coach) told me that it would take four years to turn things around and he was pretty much spot on.
Des is renowned for being fitness orientated and he was a great halfback in his day. What was he like to play for?
He did a great job. Us and Melbourne were regarded as the fittest teams in the competition and our record in second halves was pretty good which showed how fit we were. As well as Des, there was Geoff Toovey and Noel Cleal at the club and they’re two more guys who had great playing careers. That sort of experience rubs off on you and it was great to play under a trio of legendary figures like that. But they weren’t just great players, they’re now very good coaches. It’s a testimony to their coaching abilities that the club turned around their fortunes. Five of us couldn’t get a start at Canberra, yet we reached a grand final with Manly. That speaks volumes for the coaches and their ability to work with players and improve them.
You played at Canberra Raiders with your brother Joel.
That was a great experience for us to play first grade for our home town and it was something that our parents were really proud of. Joel’s already talking about coming over here and linking up with me when his contract’s finished at the Raiders so we might not have played our last game together.
So he might join you at Warrington?
Joel is keen to come out here and it’d be great to have him at Warrington. But, on the other hand, we’ve played each other four times in the NRL and he hasn’t beaten me yet so he’ll probably join another club to try and change that! Like me, he’s always been interested in playing in England so he’ll definitely be here at some stage but whether it’s two, three, four or five years away, I’m not sure.
How did you initially get into Rugby League?
My old man Stewart played footy back in his home town in Lithgow and he was a pretty good player. Also Edgar Newham, who played for the Bulldogs, is on my mother’s side of the family so there was plenty of influence there. The old man coached Joel and myself so deserves a lot of credit for us becoming footy players and he still loves his footy. He’s on the ‘phone to me every night over here, seeing how things are going. My junior club was Tuggeranong Buffaloes and they’ve produced a few decent players, including Richard Villasanti and, as well as that, I was a Raiders fan as a kid, watching all the great players like Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Laurie Daley and Bradley Clyde. That was probably one of the greatest teams of all time. I didn’t miss too many games at Bruce Stadium.
You won the Ken Stephen award in 2006 for your charity work especially with Sophie Delezio, the young girl involved in two separate car accidents.
Yes it’s something that I have an interest in outside footy. I did a lot of work with the Arranounbai School in Manly who look after disabled children. Sophie’s story was pretty big when I first joined Manly and I was lucky enough to meet her through the club. It’s something I hope to get into over here.
You talk of a four-year plan at Manly to turn things around but you’ll probably find English fans less patient. Warrington are expected to deliver now based on their signings in the last couple of years. Does that put a lot of pressure on you?
I guess there is pressure to perform but we’re certainly not going to make bold predictions about winning the comp or anything like that but we’re confident about going well this year.
Have you developed a good relationship with Paul Cullen so far?
Yes it’s good. People are talking a lot about the playing staff here but the staff are the equal of that and Paul and Jimmy Lowes have done a real good job since I’ve been here. If we can be lucky with injuries, unlike last year, then with the staff here we should be pretty confident.