FOLLOWING years of loyal service, Aussie star Michael Monaghan is set to hang up his boots as a Warrington Wolves player at the end of this season.
In this special interview, he spoke to the Warrington Guardan about his career, and his superstitions.
WHEN Michael Monaghan pulls on his Warrington Wolves shirt for the final time this season, there will be one thing he especially won’t miss.
In the seven years he has played at The Halliwell Jones Stadium, he has been a key figure as the Wolves have moved from inconsistent dreamers to table topping trophy winners.
But for 34-year-old Monaghan, who is one of just four men to have played in every final Wolves have been involved with since 2009, it might be something of a relief.
He said: “I don’t enjoy playing at all. I am motivated by the fear of losing.
“It is the relief of not losing for me which is most important.
“I remember that first time at Wembley and the feeling was just massive relief at the end that we had not lost - not joy in winning the Challenge Cup.”
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is a man who doesn’t care.
He said he still ‘bunkers down’ for days at the Latchford flat he shares with brother Joel if Warrington lose, or he plays poorly.
“I take defeats particularly badly. I will lock myself in the house and not leave for days if we lose. I can’t move on from it,” he said.
The success Monaghan has enjoyed since joined the Wolves from Manly Sea Eagles would have been hard to predict half way through that first season.
Despite a great start to 2008, Warrington won just one of seven Super League games and crashed out of the Challenge Cup – a run that ended in a home defeat to Castleford, and the exit of coach Paul Cullen.
“The first season was odd,” explains golf fan Monaghan.
“The first dozen games or so I played was as good as I had played in a long time.
“People were coming up to me to congratulate me and then it changed so quickly .
“By the end of the season, people were giving verbals from the stands. That defeat to Castleford was not the way I wanted Paul to go out - especially someone who was such a servant to the club.
“The back half of the season was very disappointing. There were times when I thought about heading home – and I had a few offers.
“But I knew I could not go back having failed.
“I would not have been able to live with myself.
“We were inconsistent throughout those first few years.
“There was lots of talk of Warrington being a place where partying was as big as playing and that was probably true.”
A brief stint with James Lowes ended four games into the following season. Ex-England and Leeds coach Tony Smith was the man brought in, charged with bringing success to The Halliwell Jones.
Although a 60-8 humiliation at Harlequins, in London in his face game in charge in March meant there was little expectation of a return to the capital six months later for a first Wembley win in a generation.
“I think Tony brought a little bit of extra discipline to it and helped us turn the corner,” he said.
That season also saw Monaghan back at hooker - where he had become so instrumental at Manly before his move to the UK. And it was actually his suggestion that brought about the change.
“I rang Tony.
“I am not sure what game it was. But I was sat at home after a loss and thought about it.
“I thought something has got to change and I thought a move to hooker might help - a way of sparking me.
“It was a tough decision because we had two great hookers at the club already (Jon Clarke and Micky Higham).
“But right from the start it felt comfortable and that is where I have played my best footy.”
And so it would prove, he scored and became only the third Australian to win the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, in the Wembley Challenge Cup final win of that year.
Having watched finals at home with dad Stuart in the early hours as a child growing up in Canberra, he had some idea of what to expect.
But it was the build-up to the final that showed quite how big an occasion it was.
“I probably didn’t realise quite how much it meant until we were ready to go to London on the Thursday.
“They said there would be some fans there to see us off but the whole Tesco car park was filled with people.
“That moment after the Challenge Cup final, stood at the Town Hall with the fans. I probably look back at those things more than the actual games themselves.
“You could really tell then how much it meant to the town - it was something special.”
Since then he has won two more Challenge Cups, one back at scrum half in 2010, and lost in two Grand Finals.
Yet 2011, when Wolves won the league leader’s shield but failed to win either of the game’s big prizes, remains the stand out team from his time in England.
“2011 we were the best team by a mile but it didn’t result in us winning the Grand Final.
“That is probably the biggest disappointment I’ve had.
“We had Hodgson, a man of Steel winner, Briersy, Moz just to mention a few. We were a quality team from one to 17.
“Probably the worst performance of the season was the game against Leeds (in the semi final).
“In 2012 we didn’t play well in the final and that was probably the hardest to take.
“2013 was different. I thought we were the better team but injuries and refereeing went against us.
“We were 16-2 up just before half time and Joel got hurt and then Stef got hurt. It was disappointing we weren’t able to hang in there.”
With the end of his career now in his sights, a silver lining to his time at the Wolves would be a fitting end to a modern great of Warrington rugby league.
Injuries have cut short the past three seasons since that stellar 2011 campaign that made him player of the year.
He said: “It is part of my own doing probably and it is one of my only regrets.
“The downside is I probably push myself too much (when injured) and try to get back a little early.
“Since 2011 when I had my ops, I came back too early and that has probably hurt the next three years of my career.
“I have probably had at least three years battling with injuries.”
And learning from those disappointments my help in the next stage of his career – the inspirational leader is looking to move into coaching for 2015.
“I am really looking forward to going into coaching.
“At the moment when I miss a game, I commentate my way through matches.
“The other boys won’t watch the game with me as I don’t stop talking. So coaching is probably something that suits me.
“Playing at half back, you have to be able to talk and look and read the game.
“Obviously I have got to get a job first! I have had a couple of offers from Australia. My fiance is probably not ready to make that move Down Under so I would like a job in England but there aren’t as many jobs out there.”
Come November then it will be a very different feeling from the past 14 years for a self-confessed pre-season nut.
He explained: “I really enjoy the hard slog of pre season.
“You have the pain and fitness tests but there is a real sense of satisfaction.
“I don’t think I am going to miss playing though.
“It has been harder to get up for games and to recover.
“I am struggling to walk around after games.
“But I will miss being in a team. Those six hours a day where you get to hang out with your mates. I will miss the camaraderie of it.”
For now though, he has just one focus. Avoiding any more loses so his last weeks as a Warrington player aren’t ones he has to spend locked up inside.
AS brothers, they may have grown up playing rugby league and still share the same flat, but in many ways Michael and Joel are very different characters.
Especially when it comes to superstitions.
Michael loves his routine – and his lucky undies.
“It is ridiculous. I have lots of superstitions. If I have a loss or played poorly, I can’t wait for the next game.
“I have got lucky undies which I wear for every game - even if we lose - I know it is totally absurd.
“We have to have the same meal before every game. Me and Joel go to Ego (in Stockton Heath) at the same time, 6.30pm, the day before each game.
“I order the same thing, risotto for starter and pasta for main. It has been the same for the past two years. “I get annoyed if Joel orders something different. He doesn’t have any superstitions.
“If they bring out the wrong meal, it really plays on my mind.”
MOVING to England from the beach life bliss of Manly may not be an obvious move.
Especially as in 2007 the Sea Eagles had just appeared in a first NRL Grand Final for a decade and Warrington remained Super League’s most frustrating under achievers.
But it has been a decision which has seen Michael make his home on the other side of the world for the past seven years.
He said: “I had played professionally in Australia for seven years so coming to the other side of the world was a big challenge.
“I had been a half back my whole career but moved to nine at Manly.
“But in that season when Matty Orford got injured, I started to play half back again and I probably got man of the match in five or six games in that period.
“So I wanted to play half back.
“It was a good end at Manly. You don’t know how things could work out.
“I could have got hurt the next year or not played well.
“And Joey Johns and Moz gave me a call and told me all about the place.
“I signed first and then Hicksy (Chris Hicks) did as well.
“They funny thing was, they did not know too much about him until I told them and he turned out to be one of the best signings Warrington ever made.
“I’d like to think I could take some credit for that.
“He loved his time here and it was great for me to have one of my best mates here.
“At the end of 2010, Hicksy was looking to go back to Australia and Joel was obviously looking for a club.
“So Hicksy sorted that. I kind of stayed out of it - I thought it was probably the best move. And it worked out ok I think.”
GROWING up in Canberra in the late 1980s and early 1990s meant you could hardly be anything but a rugby league nut.
Especially if your dad is devoted to the sport.
But a professional career seemed a long way away for an 18-year-old Michael Monaghan “At the age of 18 it was not happening with my footy and I was going to move onto other things,” he said.
”I played baseball a fair bit and was looking to do that full time.
“But Brett Finch was at the Raiders at the time playing reserve grade footy and got injured.
“They were looking for half backs and my name came up.
“I hadn’t played for six months when they asked me to come back.
“I had played Junior Raiders but did not think I was good enough.”
Growing up in Canberra, league was massive. The Raiders won three Premierships and had some of the greatest names in the game among their ranks - Mal Meninga, Ricky Stuart, Steve Walters, Lawrie Daley.
“Mal Meninga did some coaching with me when I was younger.
“So I always wanted to play for the Raiders and never really wanted to leave.
“But circumstances meant I had to leave.
“Ever since we were kids, me and Joel wanted to play and represent the Raiders.”
COMING from a large family in Australia’s capital city, the Monaghans remain close – despite being separated by 12,000 miles.
Dad Stewart coached Michael and Joel growing up and has been to the UK for every final the pair have played in since.
Michael said: “My dad was a good player growing up and banged his knee. In those days there was no coming back from a cruciate injury.
“It is all about rugby with him. We get back home and he will be watching games from under 12s and under 14s on video.
“My parents never left Australia and they have been to England eight or nine times since then, now they have been to every country in Europe.
“My grandfather, Ernie, has never been in a plane before the Challenge Cup final in 2009 – he didn’t even have a passport.
“Probably the most special thing was seeing my granddad and mum and dad at the Town Hall after the homecoming.
“And they will be coming back for my last game.”
The family are all sport mad, one of his four sisters works for the NRL while his brother in law works for the body running Australian Rules Football.
“We get to go back at the end of every season and with Skype it is easy to keep in touch with the family.
“My granddad still talks about Warrington now, his friends at home get sick of him talking about it. He was blown away by it,” he said.