Monkley impressed with Mitre 10 Cup quality

Wednesday, October 25, 2017    Lynn McConnell    

Points have been awarded during the competition by referees and the winner will be announced at the ASB end of season awards.

Monkley, a popular flanker during the great Waikato era of the late-1980 and early-1990s, played 135 games for the province.

"It's been amazing the number of people who have come up to me and felt genuinely excited for me. People I haven't heard from for 20-odd years have rung up out of the blue. It's wonderful, really cool," he said.

Monkley has remained in touch with the game and is serving as Waikato's Rugby Union president this year.

Like others he felt there had been something special about this year's Mitre 10 Cup competition. It had been great to see the likes of North Harbour doing well, Northland had been strong in the Championship. Wellington had impressed with what they had done, he said.

Canterbury had been dominant like they always had been but had lost a couple of games along the way to Wellington and Taranaki.

"The perception is the competition is not popular because big crowds don't go but that is not really an indication of the standard of the competition.

"The Super Rugby players who play in it are good, but they don't stand out as 10 times better than everyone else. I reckon the base is really strong and some unions are doing some really good things with their training and their academies. There is some amazing depth.

"I think it's particularly strong and that's obviously part of the reason the All Blacks are so strong because there's such a big, wide base and it's giving lots of people opportunities to play in 14 teams that are pretty competitive," he said.

Of some of the individuals on show he felt Northland mid-field back Jack Goodhue had been outstanding while North Harbour's new All Blacks wing Matt Duffie was another. He had been hearing good things about Canterbury Brayden Ennor while he had felt the effectiveness of Bay of Plenty's Mike Delany when Waikato played their crucial game in Tauranga to try and avoid relegation.

"It was quite a critical game for us and he was probably the difference really. It's all very well having experience but you've got to be able to back it up with athletic ability and he's still got that, and he was very consistent with his kicking and his leadership.

"What you find, and I've seen it with the Waikato team, the younger boys get a bit quiet but Mike Delany is one of those guys you can see him talking and rallying the troops often so he's been really, really invaluable to Bay of Plenty.

"Unfortunately for us, we had Dwayne Sweeney come back, he was that person for us but he got injured early on and we didn't see much of Dwayne," he said.

Monkley felt it was good to have players returning to finish their careers in that fashion in New Zealand. It also had good benefits for them off the field.

"The thing about rugby is that it can be quite insular where you are just with your group of rugby people and then you go overseas.

"If you go overseas for four or five years you lose your network of people so from their point of view there's a bigger picture than just rugby. It's a way of getting back into the community and people recognising you. It's a fabulous idea," he said.

Among other players who have made an impression he said North Harbour's Bryn Gatland had taken his chance when it was felt Waikato had too many first five-eighths. Having played with his father Warren Gatland, Monkley said he was familiar with Bryn.

Another was Northland's Rene Ranger. Monkley was in Whangarei when Waikato suffered a heavy loss and he saw Ranger cut loose.

"He just runs with so much power and is a powerful beast of a man. He's quite an intimidating package really and he puts his heart and soul into it. He obviously cares a lot for Northland," he said.

Making comparisons with when he played, Monkley said there was more depth. The competition had changed from being the second tier behind the All Blacks to the third tier.

"From a fan's point of view, we used to play in front of 25,000 people reasonably often so they don't get that experience. But in a lot of ways they are probably better prepared than we were.

"We thought we trained hard when we trained twice a week and these guys are training six or seven times a week so that's hugely different," he said.

The players were a lot younger. He had played in a Waikato forward pack where all the players reached 100 games for the union.

"It's just different. We played for Waikato across the whole calendar year but they play in a short period of 10 weeks. One year I played 21 games for Waikato.

"It's very different. No better, no worse, just different," he said.