Rugby League: The last post for Monie's magic

Dave Hadfield reveals why Wigan fired their greatest coach
VIEWED FROM a distance, Wigan's sacking of John Monie last week is one of the most shocking in sport. It is akin to Manchester United marching Alex Ferguson out of Old Trafford or Australia telling the Waugh twins they will not be required for the World Cup final.

Five championships and four Challenge Cups in five complete seasons in charge is an unrivalled record - and yet the writing has been on the wall for most of this year. When Monie returned to Wigan in 1998 it was as a man synonymous with success. A one-season contract was extended to two, but when he hinted that he could be persuaded to stay for another, the answer was silence broken only by the muffled sound of feet being dragged.

The reasons are complex. There is the question of a successor waiting in the wings in the form of Andy Goodway, the official explanation advanced by the club's chairman, Peter Norbury. But there are other factors at play. With a thin squad to work with this year, Monie's touch has looked less sure. His overseas players have not contributed enough to satisfy fans who remember Brett Kenny and Gene Miles. Gates have tailed off alarmingly and crucial games have already been lost.

When that has happened, Monie has seemed too calm and philosophical for some. Of the 13-8 defeat by Leeds nine days ago, which proved the last straw, he said: "If that was my last game, it was the type of game I'm quite happy to go out with."

Far less happy were directors who see Leeds overtaking Wigan at every level - their Academy and Alliance teams have also inflicted recent defeats - and the whole operation beginning to slide. What the directors do not take on board is that clubs like Leeds and Bradford are far better administered than Wigan, who do not have a chief executive or any marketing operation to speak of. The whole place sometimes seems in a state of suspended animation awaiting the move to the JJB Stadium at the end of the summer.

Short of really knocking the club into shape, when the board feel the need to do something they sack the coach. It was an outcome almost inevitable since the defeat by Castleford when Monie found Norbury berating the players in his - and their - inner sanctum of the home dressing-room. A stand- up row meant that the following weeks were less about Monie's mythical new contract than about terminating the existing one.

Monie has had the experience before, getting the bullet from the Auckland Warriors after a turbulent time that makes the last few months at Central Park seem sweetness and light. Even so, at 53 and with much else in his life, he still wants to coach. "I've always been a tracksuit and T-shirt guy," he said. "It's the day-to-day contact with the players that I enjoy. I'm not an administrator, but what I can do is prepare players to win big matches." For Wigan, the really big matches of this season are still to come, starting at St Helens today, but Monie will not be there. For him, the future is far from clear.

There are some at Super League who would see him as the potential saviour of the London Broncos, but the club are not interested. With his stock in Australia - thanks to the Auckland episode - as high as it is here, the Leeds game could have been his last at top level. He might look back on it contentedly enough, but at Wigan they will remember him not as a rational, gracious loser, but as the biggest winner they ever had in charge of their team.