The battle of the Nines
Michael Monaghan and Cameron Smith ready for their key match up in the NRL Grand Final.
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2007 11:51 GMT
Michael Monaghan: a revelation in his new role [GALLO/GETTY]
The destination of Australia's National Rugby League title could come down to battle between the hookers as the Melbourne Storm clash with the Manly Sea-Eagles in the Grand Final on Sunday.
Melbourne and Australian hooker Cameron Smith will line up against Manly's Michael Monaghan who has emerged as the No. 1 attacking weapon for the Sea Eagles.
Monaghan, a 27-year-old former halfback, ranks second in the NRL for linebreak assists, behind North Queensland Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston, and fifth for try assists behind four halfbacks.
Despite his good form, Monaghan believes his changes in position has been as easy as he thought.

"It probably took me a little bit longer to adjust than I thought it would," he said.

"I probably thought I would jump straight into it and be good at hooker. It is a lot of work, especially dealing with fatigue."

The arrival of Matt Orford last year, which prompted his positional change, led to rumors that Monaghan was to be sacked by the Eagles.

Earlier this year Monaghan signed a deal to join English Super League club Warrington and play halfback in 2008, but he denies having an ongoing problem playing with Orford.

"I've enjoyed my time here but obviously I've made the move to go back to halfback," Monaghan said.

"But I've never had a drama playing hooker and I've never had a drama playing with Ox."

A good student

Manly coach Des Hasler praised Monaghan for his ability to make the switch from halfback to hooker.

"He's a real good student of the game," said Hasler.

"He reads the game really well and prepares really well for the game."

The first-place Storm beat the Parramatta Eels 26-10 last weekend while the second-place Sea Eagles beat North Queensland 28-6 in the semifinals.

It's the second straight grand final appearance for the Storm, who lost to the Brisbane Broncos last year.

Manly hasn't been in a grand final in 10 years and despite having won six titles, have not won a championship match since 1996.

The grand final referee, his first time for the championship decider, will be Tony Archer, a 37-year-old police prosecutor.

Meanwhile, South Sydney Rabbitohs owner and actor Russell Crowe has flown to Jacksonville Florida to promote his side’s clash with English Super League side Leeds in the USA on January 26.

NRL Grand Final teams

Melbourne: Billy Slater, Steve Turner, Matt King, Israel Folau, Anthony Quinn, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Ben Cross, Cameron Smith (captain), Brett White, Clint Newton, Ryan Hoffman, Dallas Johnson. Interchange: Jeremy Smith, Matt Geyer, Michael Crocker, Jeff Lima, James Aubusson, Garret Crossman, Adam Blair, Sika Manu (four to be omitted).

Manly: Brett Stewart, Michael Robertson, Steve Bell, Steve Matai, Chris Hicks, Jamie Lyon, Matt Orford (captain), Jason King, Michael Monaghan, Brent Kite, Anthony Watmough, Glenn Stewart, Luke Williamson. Interchange: Travis Burns, Glenn Hall, Mark Bryant, Steve Menzies, Matt Ballin, Jack Afamasaga, Adam Cuthbertson (three to be omitted).

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