AS an Australian from Canberra who played his English rugby at Warrington before starting his coaching career in France, the rivalry between Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers is all a little new to Michael Monaghan.
That said, the Trinity assistant does not need to know too much about it ahead of tonight’s game nine miles down the road at Wheldon Road.
Given the abject manner of Wakefield’s last performance, Friday’s mind-boggling 38-4 defeat at Salford that came straight after a win over Super League leaders St Helens, they could be playing Cutsyke Raiders and the objective would be the same: they need a massive improvement.
Monaghan, who joined the West Yorkshire club in January after almost three years with Catalans Dragons, is confident there will be a positive response.
“Last weekend we were way off – we were our own worst enemies and deserved what we got,” said the former Manly Sea Eagles hooker, a Lance Todd Trophy winner in 2009, the first of his three Challenge Cup victories with Warrington.
“In previous defeats we’ve been in the game and close but there were signs early on with our energy against Salford that we just weren’t at it. It’s about bouncing back now and making sure we’re on the right end of that energy battle; if we let Castleford dominate in terms of energy and attitude we’ll have a tough night.
“But from what I’ve seen from the players since I’ve been here I wouldn’t expect a performance like that again.”
As derby match-ups go, it has all been fairly one-sided of late with Castleford – who suffered their own loss at Wigan last week – seeking a 10th straight victory over Trinity tonight.
It has been more than three years since Wakefield prospered against them but Monaghan maintained: “That’s certainly not our motivation. Not for me anyway as I haven’t been involved in this rivalry for that long.
“For the fans and people who have been here longer it might be the case. For me it’s about making sure we get back to earlier stuff done this year.
I’m assuming these games are always hotly contested because of the rivalry ... it’ll be just two teams wanting to belt each other for 80 minutes.Michael Monaghan.
“If we do that the result takes care of itself.”
Castleford have their own issues. Garry Lo was ‘stood down’ on Wednesday after the club revealed the Papua New Guinea international was voluntarily helping police with an inquiry.
The former Sheffield Eagles winger had made a try-scoring Super League debut at Wigan last Friday, but now Tigers are without four widemen as Greg Eden and James Clare are injured and Jy Hitchcox is on a loan at Bradford Bulls unable to be recalled.
Youngster Calum Turner could, then, debut for last year’s League Leaders’ Shield winners.
On Castleford’s own form, Monaghan admitted: “They’re certainly not playing the type of footy they were last year.
“All the talk in the competition up until the finals was the quality of their attack. They have gone about it a little differently this year; they certainly haven’t been as fluent or as dangerous in attack but they’re winning games with their defence and still finding ways to get results.
“We’re under no illusions They are a great team on the back of a loss to Wigan, coming into the game with a bit of controversy swelling around there at the moment with Garry Lo and a few of those things.
“I’m assuming these games are always hotly contested because of the rivalry. But whatever’s going on there and here will probably be largely forgotten; it’ll be just two teams wanting to belt each other for 80 minutes and we think we have the gameplan that will work.”
Yet again they came close in the last meeting, losing just 11-6 in a mudbath at Belle Vue over Easter having only lost to a Luke Gale drop goal in the same fixture last year.
Head coach Chris Chester has made significant changes in the wake of the Salford defeat, though, scrum-half Liam Finn and full-back Scott Grix left out as ‘Rocky’ Hampshire and Max Jowitt gain rare opportunities.
At times this term, especially on the five-game losing run that preceded that fine victory over Saints, they have needed someone to steady them home, just the sort of influence Monaghan so often had during his own career.
How has he actually found the transition from player to coach since retiring at the end of 2014?
“It was different initially,” recalled Monaghan, who was Laurent Frayssinous’s assistant in Perpignan before Steve McNamara’s arrival last summer.
“You do get a different perspective from the other side.
“As a player I probably always saw myself as a coach anyway and being in the position I played there was always that little bit of coaching about how I played.
“It hasn’t been a huge transition but just seeing some of those little aspects through coaches’ eyes in terms of selection and how to manage a big squad is probably the hardest thing.
“As a player you’re fairly insular worrying about your own performance and the 17 guys every weekend. But as a coach you have to really take into the account the guys who aren’t playing; what their attitude is like and their mental state as if you do need them to come in and play they need to be ready. You have to worry about 31 or 32 men not just 17.”