Challenge Cup semi-final: Michael Monaghan dreams of final bow

With brother Joel alongside him, the Warrington hooker will seek to end his successful career at ‘home from home’ Wembley by inflicting another Challenge Cup defeat on Leeds, reports Dave Hadfield

For a hooker, the player who handles the ball more than any other in a rugby league team, the game is all about timing.

A few weeks ago it looked as though Michael Monaghan’s had deserted him completely. After six highly successful  seasons at Warrington, his English career was set to peter out through injury.

Monaghan, part of three Challenge Cup triumphs since joining the Wolves in 2008, tore his calf muscle in the quarter-final win over Bradford. He had already announced his intention to retire at the end of the  season and it seemed that his time might be up earlier than that.

But the elder of the Monaghan brothers had other ideas and last week in the south of France proved he was fit to take his place for this most fraternal of clubs in Saturday’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Leeds. Not only that, but he was the best player on the field as the Wolves beat the Catalan Dragons 26-24 in Perpignan.

“Michael was unbelievable,” said his brother, Super League’s leading try-scorer, Joel, after that match. “He hasn’t played for 10 weeks and he turned in one of the best performances I’ve seen from him since I’ve been here.’

The Warrington coach, Tony Smith, echoed those sentiments. “Michael Monaghan was the difference between the two sides,” he said. “I thought he was out of this world in terms of his defence. He created errors in the opposition with the way he tackled.”

The Australian Monaghans are one of three sets of brothers on Warrington’s books, but the only pair likely to start the semi-final at St Helens’ Langtree Park.

The Welsh twins Rhys and Ben Evans have appeared together for the Wolves, although the winger, Rhys, is the one in line to appear in a Challenge Cup semi-final for the first time.

Chris Bridge is a regular at half-back or centre, while his younger brother, Danny, who made his first-team debut last season, is learning his craft as a second-rower in the academy.

Smith likes to infer that this brotherly overload fits in with his image of the club as a family. There is no doubt at the moment, however, it is the Monaghan siblings who hold much of the Wolves’ hopes in their hands this weekend and, if they get there, at Wembley a fortnight later.

Michael, now 34, was man of the match and winner of the Lance Todd Trophy in his first final in 2009, when Warrington beat Huddersfield at Wembley to end a 35-year wait for Cup glory, and he admits that the club now has “an affinity” with the place.

“I’ve got some great memories of Wembley,” he said. “I will always look back on them fondly and I hope I get the chance to add some more.”

You could say that for both members of the Monaghan family. The winger or centre, Joel, two years younger, followed Michael to Warrington in 2011 after being sacked by the Canberra Raiders for figuring in a compromising photo circulated on social media.

He was outstanding for the Wolves in the 2012 final victory over Leeds, scoring the opening try in a 35-18 romp. That was from a kick by Richie Myler; on other occasions it would be from the now retired Lee Briers. Now it is most likely to be from his brother, whose kicking game, darting out from dummy-half, frequently adds an extra dimension to the Wolves’ attacking play.

If it would be a case of home from home for Warrington and the Monaghans, Leeds’ relationship with Wembley and the Cup final is a very different thing. They have made the final six times since 1999 and have lost the lot, including the 2010 and 2012 finals to Warrington. That means that a truly outstanding generation of players is in danger of reaching the end of their careers without lifting the game’s oldest trophy at its traditional venue.

Michael Monaghan, though, cautions against any assumption that the Rhinos will be the hungrier side. “It won’t be about who wants it more,” he said. “It will come down to who does what needs to be done to win.”

Leeds have the boost of the return of their captain Kevin Sinfield after his first sending-off and first suspension of his career. His availability means that the Rhinos will split the hooking duties between Paul Aiton and Rob Burrow, who will be facing up to Monaghan and the elusive Micky Higham. It is where an intriguing semi-final is likely to be won and lost.

In the following day’s semi-final between Castleford and Widnes at the Leigh Sports Village, Cas have already been struck by a potentially damaging blow.

Their volatile, barn-storming winger Justin Carney will miss the game after receiving one of his regular suspensions – two matches for punching in the draw at Hull. His team-mate Weller Hauraki is also banned for use of the knees in a tackle in the same match.

It could be enough to tilt matters in the direction of Widnes, the one-time “Cup Kings” of the late 1970s and early 1980s, who have not been in a final since 1993.

Castleford have been the proverbial breath of fresh air this season, however, and have shown the ability to play without their main strike weapon when necessary.

Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
Sport
Hamilton runs down the back straight in the rain
F1
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing