Monie puts defence top of Broncos' priority list

Former Wigan coach resists lure of surf to seek satisfaction at rugby league's last remaining outpost.
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The Independent Online

When John Monie went to his first training session as an active rugby league coach since last summer, he intended merely to watch.

When John Monie went to his first training session as an active rugby league coach since last summer, he intended merely to watch.

The good news for those wondering whether Monie still has the fire in his belly to breathe new life into the London Broncos is that he could not wait. "I was only there as an observer, but I couldn't resist putting them through a few defensive drills," he declared.

As significant as him springing into action was the sort of action he sprang into, because the new man at the helm of rugby league's one remaining professional outpost is establishing his priorities early.

"It's no use playing well one week and getting flogged the next," he says. "Pride in performance and consistency - that's what I'm aiming for."

Monie, his status as a recently arrived coach-in-a-suitcase underlined by his current address at a hotel just off the runway at Heathrow, is back in the old routine.

When he was shunted out of his second term at Wigan in the middle of last season, his immediate thought was that his remarkable coaching career might be at an end.

He is, after all, a man with a hinterland, who will never be short of TV work and who loves tennis and surfing almost as much as he does rugby league. "But I was bored," he says. "In fact, I've never been so bored in my life."

So, the most successful coach in the recent history of the British game was open to offers. But none came, not even when the sacking of Dan Stains created a vacancy at the Broncos - and Monie's friends in high places, notably the then Super League managing director, Maurice Lindsay, pushed him hard for it.

The bags were packed and the Monies were heading for retirement on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, but then the phone started ringing, with three approaches in his last week in the country. One was to coach South Africa in next year's World Cup; another, to direct the rebirth of Hull in the Northern Ford Premiership, was overtaken by events. That left London, who had belatedly decided that he was the man for the job after all.

"What changed my mind was talking to him," the club's chief executive, Tony Rea, says. "There's so much experience there - and wherever he has been his teams have always known how to defend."

That word again. "I look at last season's results and see that they beat St Helens, but they also let in 74 points against Bradford," Monie says. "That's just unacceptable. I can't live with that."

Hence the way he is making one thing very clear from the start. "I allow players a lot of leeway in attack. But they'll defend my way. I mean, with 15 Australians at the club, they should know how to tackle."

There will be rather fewer Aussies at the club this year - or at least on the field at any one time - now that Monie has brought in two of his protégés from Wigan, Jon Clarke and Andy Johnson, to play alongside his existing nucleus of Northern pros, his "colony within a colony" of Shaun Edwards and Karle Hammond.

Monie has already told Edwards how much he will be expecting from him this season; that will be interesting to watch after the sometimes bumpy relationship between the two in the past.

But this is a vital campaign for the Broncos in many respects. Not only do they have a proven coach at top club level for the first time in their 20-year history, but the demise of Gateshead leaves them looking more exposed and isolated than at any stage in the last two decades.

On top of that, they are on the move again, leaving The Stoop in furthest West London after three years to return to Charlton, where they firmly believe they will pull better crowds.

The way that their attendances failed to respond to the initial excitement of reaching Wembley earlier this year was a major disappointment to the Broncos. Monie, who is on record as believing that the game should concentrate its efforts on its heartlands, can only rely on his gut feeling that it is consistent competitiveness, rather than the occasional glittering prize, that will raise the profile of the club. "I can't wait for the season to get started," he says. "It felt good getting out there on the training paddock the other day. I'm not ready to retire yet."

As a 50-something in what is increasingly a young man's business, this two-year contract will be his last before his retirement house between the water and the golf course beckons.

Pride demands that he goes out as a success. "And it would be easy to say that success would mean making the play-offs this season, but that's going to be tough. "Wigan, St Helens, Leeds and Bradford are still the sides to beat. Neither Warrington nor Gateshead [now Hull] made the top five last time and they'll both be stronger this time."

If Monie has any fixture circled in red for the coming year, it will surely be the one in mid-April when he returns to Wigan, where he raised trophy-winning to an art form. He will see some changes. His old club will be at a new ground, and the man who replaced him last year - Andy Goodway - has since been sacked himself.

But rugby league is like a big, sometimes dysfunctional family and the new man in charge will be Monie's one-time assistant at Auckland, Frank Endacott. "I think Frank will be good for them. He's a happy-go-lucky bloke, with a very, very laid-back exterior. But under that there's a very good rugby league brain."

Few would claim any less for Monie - and that brain, after those months of boredom, is buzzing again with the stimulus of a new challenge.


Premiership: 1986

1989-93 WIGAN

Championship: 1990, 91, 92, 93 Challenge Cup: 1990, 91, 92, 93 World Club Challenge: 1991

Premiership: 1992

Regal Trophy: 1993

1995-98 AUCKLAND

No trophies

1998-99 WIGAN

Super League Championship: 1998