Riders add British-Canadian rugby convert Matthew Monaghan to exclusive negotiation list

Photo courtesy: Akron Athletics

The Saskatchewan Roughriders could be looking to the rugby pitch to add to their Canadian depth.

Matthew Monaghan, a dual British-Canadian citizen who has never played a game of organized football, was added to the team’s negotiation list on February 12, giving the team his exclusive CFL rights. The 23-year-old is angling to transition to the gridiron after originally attempting the move at the collegiate level.

A rugby star at Wetherby Senior School in London, England, Monaghan was first uncovered by former CFL player Brandon Collier and his organization PPI Recruits, who saw the potential in his frame and athletic ability. The six-foot-four, 235-pounder was reportedly able to bench 330 pounds, squat 400 pounds and deadlift 495 pounds coming out of high school while running an estimated 4.7-second forty-yard dash.

Those numbers and an impressive rugby highlight reel earned him an NCAA scholarship from the University of Akron in 2021 despite having never put on shoulder pads. Monaghan began work as a tight end with the Zips but suffered a series of foot injuries in his first season and never saw the field, leaving the school the following year. He has kept in shape and recently posted a video in which he put up 25 reps on the bench, hoping to revive his football dream.

The CFL hopeful comes from a well-established Quebec-based family and is the grandson of renowned surgeon and McGill professor Dr. Edmond Monaghan. He identified himself as a fan of the Montreal Alouettes in interviews prior to his stint in the NCAA but spent his early years in Toronto, before moving to England at the age of 8 when his father, Ed, was made the global head of FX trading for the Royal Bank of Canada.

Because he never dressed for Akron, Monaghan does not have to go through the CFL Draft process and can be signed as a free agent. By identifying his National status and claiming his negotiation list rights, the Riders have given themselves time to evaluate the cross-sport prospect without the risk of another team signing him.

This is not the first time that Saskatchewan has toyed with the idea of signing a rugby convert, previously adding Canada Sevens’ flanker Adam Zaruba to their neg list in 2017. The North Vancouver native ultimately signed with the Philadelphia Eagles instead and spent two training camps in the NFL, never joining the CFL club.

Though he has less prior football experience than Zaruba, Monaghan could be viewed as a similar high-upside prospect. The Riders are under no obligation to sign him despite holding his rights but have already made a statement in making him the only Canadian currently on a neg list anywhere in the league.

Saskatchewan will open their 2024 regular season on Saturday, June 8 when they visit the Edmonton Elks at Commonwealth Stadium.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.