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Interview: Meet the Monaghan brothers

Interview: Meet the Monaghan brothers

by: John Davidson, May 7, 2014, 12:38 pm

Michael and Joel Monaghan have been stand-outs since arriving in Super League. But if it wasn’t for chance, and an unfortunate incident, neither would have ended up at Warrington. Rugby League World magazine recounts the tale…

They are as tight as can be. Brothers who were born just two years apart and each followed their dreams in Rugby League across the world.

They live together in the UK and have played alongside each other for two different clubs. Michael and Joel Monaghan might be close as siblings but the two footballers couldn’t be more different as characters.

The oldest Michael is an intense person, a highly competitive individual who plans on becoming a coach when he hangs up the boots, while Joel is laconic and laid-back, your more typical Aussie bloke.

“He’s the angry one out of the two,” according to Joel. “Game day he’s very high-strung. I couldn’t be the more opposite. I think it works well together the way we are. It takes a fair bit to get me riled up but he’s got a short fuse. A lot of brothers fight but I can’t remember the last time we lost it with each other.”

Joel and Michael might have differing personalities, but what they do share is a tremendous ability to play Rugby League. Michael, a creative hooker or halfback, and Joel, a fast and strong winger, have enjoyed successful careers in both the NRL and Super League.

Between them they have played in State of Origin, NRL grand finals, a World Cup, Challenge Cup finals, Country Origin, Super League Grand Finals and for the Exiles. Combined, the pair have scored over 900 points, crossed for more than 200 tries and made over 550 appearances in club and representative footy.

Both arrived at Warrington at the peak of their careers – Michael at the age of 27, Joel at 28 – and both have made their mark at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

“At the time I thought my world was ending, to get out of Australia was pretty handy. The fans here, not our fans, the other fans here, don’t let you forget too quick. There was a time there when I thought I could have finished up footy, but to be given the chance to come over and start fresh I have to thank Warrington for that. It ended up being the best decision I’ve made.”

Wolves boss Tony Smith considers them to be vital members of his side who have made big contributions, both on and off the field. “They’re big personalities in our club. They’ve had a tremendous impact on our culture in a positive way. Both have given tremendous service. They’ve been high performers right from the word go. It’s hard to say any overseas player has had a bigger impact.”

Green Machine idols
The story of the Monaghans begins in Australia’s capital in the early 1980s. The two were raised by a Rugby League-loving father and at a time in Canberra when the sport was really taking off.

“It was a Rugby League family right from day one,” Michael remembers. “Growing up in Canberra in the heyday of Rugby League there with Meninga, Daley, Stuart and a million great players, so it was a great time to grow up. The old man played country footy in Australia and I think he had a chance to go play in the NSW competition but did his cruciate ligament in his knee.

“He coached both us in our junior footy and I definitely got it through him. My mum’s grandfather also played for Canterbury-Bankstown back in the 1940s.”

The Raiders were admitted into the NRL in 1982 and made Grand Finals in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1994. They won three of those five deciders with a host of legends in their ranks.

Joel in action against Widnes Vikings. ©RLPhotos

Joel in action against Widnes Vikings. ©RLPhotos

Michael and Joel grew up as fans of “The Green Machine” and after playing together briefly in a high school knockout competition, would both make their first-grade debuts for Canberra in 2001.

They each spent three and four years, respectively, at the Raiders before heading to Sydney. Michael became part of the Sea Eagles revival, helping them back into finals contention and eventually to a grand final, while Joel joined the Roosters. Michael, 33, describes his stint at Manly as “the best time” in his career, but the playmaker almost didn’t end up at Brookvale Oval.

“Playing for Manly was a new lifestyle, living up on the beach and it was a great four years I had there. The first year we finished in 12th and then to the fourth year going to the Grand Final, it was great to be part of the rise of the club after five really tough years.

“Des Hasler was the one who actually signed me. I was all set to sign with Parramatta and Brian Smith, and then got a call from Dessie to come and have a chat with him and I was really impressed. Once I got up there and had a look there was no chance I was going to Parramatta really. I had a chance to captain the club for a year and half which was a great time.”

Joey intervention
For Joel the opportunity to join the Roosters, a side that was one of the best in the competition at the time, was too good to pass up.

“The Roosters were in three Grand Finals in a row and then I put pen to paper and we didn’t make the eight for three years, so it was a good move! Freddy [Brad Fittler] left that year and having him gone was a massive void that we didn’t replace. But I don’t regret going there at all. It was a pretty good three years.”

“He’s the angry one out of the two. Game day he’s very high-strung. I couldn’t be the more opposite. I think it works well together the way we are. It takes a fair bit to get me riled up but he’s got a short fuse. A lot of brothers fight but I can’t remember the last time we lost it with each other.”

In 2007 Michael made the hard decision to leave Manly, with his last game for the club a one-sided defeat at the hands of Melbourne in the Grand Final. “I was just after something different really. There’d been a few changes at the club and I’d been playing halfback, up until that last year when we made the Grand Final, and I started the year looking at halfback and signed with Warrington.

“It wasn’t until that time I moved to hooker and quite enjoyed it there. To be honest if I’d be playing hooker before I signed I probably wouldn’t have left the club but I had already signed two or three rounds into the season. There’s no regrets about moving here, I’ve had a great time and played in some big games.”

Joel scoring in the 2013 Super League Grand Final. ©RLPhotos

Joel scoring in the 2013 Super League Grand Final. ©RLPhotos

A fortuitous phone call from Andrew Johns helped Michael find his way to Warrington, but it wasn’t all plain sailing initially.

“I think Joey was meant to be coming to Warrington and had a neck injury and he actually gave me a call. He put my name in. Adrian Morley gave me a call too. It was tough early on at the club. Some of the facilities weren’t the best and the weather, and being away from your family, it was a tough first year.

“There’s no secret that if you come over here as a big name in Australia and you don’t have success they can turn on you, and that first 12 months we probably copped it a little bit for our performances. It was a tough first year but from then on, the second year Smithy (Tony Smith) came in and we started to have a bit of success and some consistent performances at the club and it’s been great ever since.”

End of the world
Michael’s time with the Wolves has been outstanding. Over seven seasons he has helped the club win three Challenge Cups and reach two Super League Grand Finals. Meanwhile, back in Australia Joel had left Sydney after three years to go home:
“It was the best thing I’ve ever done. 2008 was probably the best of year of footy I’ve had in my career. It’s probably the year I’ll remember most when I finish playing footy.”

The 2008 campaign was certainly a standout year for the outside back. He was selected for NSW and Australia, playing in the World Cup, and also won the Raiders’ Player of the Year award. But it was also bittersweet, with the Blues falling to Queensland and the Kangaroos upset by the Kiwis.

“It was massive highs and lows. To get selected in that tournament, I think we won all four previous games by about 30 or 40. We got out to a 10-0, it could have been 16-0 head start, and then to be fair they played a probably near-perfect 60 minutes, New Zealand. It’s disappointing and something that would be good to have in the trophy cabinet, to say you’ve won a World Cup, but it wasn’t to be.”

Joel remembers fondly his handful of Origin games for NSW.

Michael in action against Leeds Rhinos. ©RLPhotos

Michael in action against Leeds Rhinos. ©RLPhotos

“It’s something you grow up wanting to do. You say playing for your country but Origin’s probably the pinnacle of the game. The week and the preparation and to be able to live that dream since you were young, it was pretty special.”

However, in 2010 Joel’s world fell apart. A photograph of him simulating a lewd act with a dog during ‘Mad Monday’, as part of a drunken prank, was published on Twitter and he quit the Raiders in disgrace.

“At the time I thought my world was ending, to get out of Australia was pretty handy. The fans here, not our fans, the other fans here, don’t let you forget too quick. There was a time there when I thought I could have finished up footy, but to be given the chance to come over and start fresh I have to thank Warrington for that. It ended up being the best decision I’ve made.”

Wolves redemption
After the incident Joel had not immediately set his sights on Warrington, but the chance intervention of Wolves’ Australian winger Chris Hicks proved telling. “Obviously Mick was there but with how it all went, the suddenness of me leaving Australia and all that went on, I just come over to get away from Australia after all that stuff happened.

“I went down to do some training with Warrington just to clear my head and there was never any intention to stay as they had their quota full. Then on a flight to France, I was about to sign with France for the Catalans. I came back and was about to put pen to paper, but that night I reckon, Hicksy phoned me and said mate I wouldn’t mind going home to Australia if you’re keen to play here. I jumped at the chance.

“The success they’d had, winning the two Challenge Cups and having Mick and that here. Moz [Adrian Morley] was here, I’d played with him at the Roosters, so when they said it was a chance I nearly ripped his arm off. It worked out well. I’ve loved every minute I’ve had at Warrington. Thinking back now, it was probably the lowest point of my career when I signed here after all that went on but after that it’s been nothing but highs.”

“It’s something you grow up wanting to do. You say playing for your country but Origin’s probably the pinnacle of the game. The week and the preparation and to be able to live that dream since you were young, it was pretty special.”

In Super League Joel’s performances have gone to another level. His average of a try in every game is phenomenal, and he is easily one of the best wingers in the competition.

Rarely beaten under the high ball and a dead-eyed finisher, last season the 32-year old extended his deal with the Wolves for another three years.

“I think the style over here suits an outside back. In the NRL it’s a more forward-based type of game. But over here, especially with Tony’s coaching and the players we’ve had – you look at Briersy and Stef – as an outside back it’s a perfect structure.”

Joel representing the green and gold of Australia. ©RLPhotos

Joel representing the green and gold of Australia. ©RLPhotos

The Monaghans have battled adversity, injury and controversy to carve out fantastic careers in England. Since 2011 they have been side by side, often either playing the role of match-winner for Wire. The chance to play together for so long is something they have savoured.

“I think we played 20 or 30 games together at Canberra, only a handful, and we always said we’d like to play together again when I left for Manly,” Michael says.

“To then get the opportunity to come and do it over here, it didn’t come about the way we expected but the fact we got to play in some finals together and live in another country together as well is something that not all brothers get to do. We’ve really enjoyed it and I think it’s brought the best out of him.”

Regrets are a part of life and Rugby League, and it hasn’t been always been smooth sailing for the red-haired Australians. Michael gave up the chance of Grand Final success with Manly to come to Warrington while Joel’s representative career ended prematurely.

But both are honest individuals who prefer to look forward, not back. Both are thankful for the unique journey Rugby League has given them and for the wonderful experiences earned wearing the primrose and blue jersey. 2014 should the last season where Michael and Joel are seen in Warrington colours together, with Michael set to retire at the end of this year.

But the exploits of the dynamic Canberrans, two of the most successful imports in Super League history, will live long in the memory.

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