I like Stephen Kearney and think he’s done a fantastic job as Kiwis coach.
But questions need to be asked about whether personal issues with certain players are affecting team selection.
Kearney’s record as coach of the Kiwis is impressive. He won a World Cup in his first major international tournament in charge of the side and picked up two other major international championships since.
But he has refused to select Roosters prop Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Dragons star Benji Marshall over the past couple of seasons despite their form warranting inclusion. Marshall was once again inexplicably left out of the Kiwis train-on squad for the tour of England this week, while injury to Waerea-Hargreaves settles that selection without it creating debate. With Shaun Johnson and Thomas Leuluai out of contention due to injury – Marshall is without doubt the next best eligible halfback to be picked along with Manly’s Kieran Foran.
Youngsters Tui Lolohea and Kodi Nikorima of the Broncos could be potential options but neither is currently a better international halfback and neither have played at the international level. Surely in a large squad, Marshall warrants inclusion.
It appears that both Marshall and Waerea-Hargreaves are on the outer with Kearney for some reason other than form and, while he’s quite within his rights to select who he wants, Kiwi rugby league fans deserve to know the truth as to why those two NRL stars are surplus to requirement.
Kearney has been linked to the Warriors head coaching job this week too. Warriors boss Jim Doyle has gone out of his way to deny these rumours and has publicly promised that Andrew McFadden will remain coach of the side for the 2016 season. If Doyle were to secretly be plotting to replace McFadden with the Kiwis coach, he would do his own reputation significant harm. Personally I think McFadden will be the head coach when round 1 comes around next season.
Kearney is not the right person to coach the Warriors in my opinion anyway. He deserves a chance to be an NRL head coach but this is not the right club for it.
Kearney’s critics will say assistant coach Wayne Bennett was the man responsible for the 2008 World Cup triumph and will point to the star players in the current Kiwi squad for the reason why they have overtaken the Kangaroos in the world pecking order. Those same critics will highlight his tenure at the Parramatta Eels as a reason why he doesn’t work as a week in week out first grade coach. The reality though is that those numbers don’t tell the full story. Bennett, Craig Bellamy or Des Hasler would have enjoyed no more success than Kearney did at the Eels – the club was a total mess with the administration and the board undermining each other to the point where on-field success was impossible. They still haven’t completely sorted it even after all this time.
Kearney deserves to take credit for the success of the Kiwis in recent seasons. He’s had some good cattle to work with but he’s also fashioned a style of play that has beaten the Kangaroos and selected the right players for the task (JWH and Marshall notably excluded).
But the Warriors would run the risk of becoming the Kiwis in disguise with so many leading players at one club and the national coach sharing two significant posts. It hasn’t worked in the past because naturally you can only have one priority. Yes, it is possible to have a number of objectives but when push comes to shove one role takes priority.
The Warriors need a confident coach, who displays a strength of character outwardly, uniting fans and critics alike. They need a coach with universal respect and I’m not sure that Kearney ticks either box just yet. Admittedly neither does incumbent McFadden but I see little point in going through the upheaval of making yet another coaching change unless it really is worth it.
McFadden is the right person to stay in the role for now. Maybe Doyle is sounding out if Kearney is interested in the job so he has a plan in place if McFadden doesn’t work out during the early rounds next season. A prudent NRL club boss would be looking at potential options anyway. I just hope they don’t stop with Kearney and that they keep looking.
In the meantime, when the Kiwis assemble for their tour of England, someone needs to get a straight answer from Kearney – why is Benji not in the side?