Michael Monaghan arrived in Warrington at the beginning of the last season handed with the task of partnering the evergreen Lee Briers at the heart of the Wolves team.
And it was that pairing that effectively won the Challenge Cup Final for the Wolves at the weekend, with Monaghan edging his team-mate to the Lance Todd Trophy.
With Briers demanding the number six shirt for the past decade, much of Warrington’s form over the years has been down to him. But to take the side to the next level, they needed to find a playmaker who could work in tandem with the Welsh international.
Nathan Wood showed the blueprint, forging a reasonably successful partnership with Briers in a three year stint at the club before injury cut short his stay. The problem for Warrington during those few years was that they found themselves often at the wrong end of the table.
Monaghan showed great promise at the beginning of his Warrington career following his arrival from the NRL’s Manly Sea Eagles, but bad luck with injuries hampered his progress.
Just like with his predecessor, fellow Australian Michael Sullivan – now with Canterbury Bulldogs, it seemed that his style of play was more suited to the hooking role. It seemed just Warrington’s luck that their second successive Aussie import to fill their number 7 shirt would instead inadvertently add competition to Jon Clarke for the number 9 role.
Injuries played their part across the Wolves team over the past 18 months, and this season has seen Clarke ruled out for large chunks of the season, with rotation hooker Mickey Higham also out for the past 10 weeks – before his return to action in Saturday’s final.
It has meant a re-shuffle in Tony Smith’s line-up, and has resulted in Monaghan leading the Wolves from dummy half. His urgency at the play-the-ball and his intelligence around the ruck was evident on Saturday as he guided the forwards around the pitch, enabling Warrington to stifle the go-forward threat of Huddersfield. It gave Briers the chance to boss the backs and create the plays that guided Warrington home.
It was a moment of brilliance that brought Monaghan his first half try, while he read the game superbly to send over Vinnie Anderson for what was the game-clinching try in the second half.
Monaghan’s future at Warrington was surely rubber-stamped by Saturday’s performance, but with the arrival of Richie Myler imminent, it remains to be seen just where the Australian will fit in. Just like Sullivan, he is far more useful to the Wolves at hooker – but with Clarke and Higham in the team, just where will everybody play?
Either way, it’s exciting times for the Wolves, and with Myler set to arrive, a partnership between him and Briers next season will have fans licking their lips in anticipation.