Sacking Kearney will cost Warriors $2 million
The New Zealand Warriors are facing a $2 million payout after sacking coach Stephen Kearney with more than two years remaining on his contract.
And in a show of support from the team, the players did a haka as Kearney broke the news to them in a meeting room at the Star of the Sea resort in Terrigal on Saturday afternoon.
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An emotional Kearney fought back tears as he addressed the players.
Chief executive Cameron George had broken the news to Kearney via a phone call from his Auckland home.
"He was pretty shattered," George said. "It was a very difficult decision because he is so respected.
"He's only human. It was more difficult because I couldn't do it face to face."
Kearney's job had been under pressure for several weeks.
"This didn't pop up overnight," George said. "As a club, we constantly do reviews to understand where we're going.
"We've had a challenging year on and off the field and it was challenging last year, too.
"We needed to make a decision in the best interests of the club moving forward, and they're never easy to make."
The playing group had nothing to do with the decision, George said.
"Stephen had a great relationship with the players," George said. "I've never had a player come to me about a breakdown in relationships. The players really liked him. "
Assistant coach Todd Payten has beaten club legend Stacey Jones for the job as caretaker coach.
The Warriors management made the decision this morning after Friday night's heavy 40-12 loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The players and staff were informed of the decision about 4pm.
Kearney signed a three-year contract extension only last February.
Their CEO Cameron George said at the time: "It's vital to have the right people in the right roles and in Stephen we have someone who absolutely fits what we need."
In a year in which coaches across the game have been under enormous pressure, Kearney becomes the first to lose his job despite the difficulties the team has faced this year living away from home.
The timing was surprising given the Warriors had beaten the Cowboys 37-26 the previous week.
Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga said on Fox Sports he was shocked by the decision.
"I feel it's a bit premature considering the challenges the Warriors have had to confront," Meninga said. "It's a bit harsh."
Kearney, 48, took on the job in 2017 and has made the finals only once. He had a win rate of 41.8 per cent from 79 games.
George paid tribute to Kearney's contribution to the club.
"We're so grateful to Stephen for the dedication he has shown to us in what have been difficult circumstances," George said.
"His commitment, work ethic and concern for the wellbeing of the club, players and their families through this challenging year is testament to his character, and we wish him and his family all the best for the future."
PAYTEN MIGHT NOT BE THE MAN FOR WARRIORS
by David Riccio
It's the job he's been waiting for - but Todd Payten faces a challenge to remain in charge of the Warriors for the long-haul.
Payten, 41, has been appointed on an interim basis after the shock sacking of Stephen Kearney.
And while the Warriors will analyse the merits of the rookie NRL coach over the next five months, a global search for the man to lead the club to their maiden premiership is also underway behind the scenes.
Nathan Brown, who began the year at the club as a consultant before the COVID-19 financial crisis hit every club, will be discussed by the Warriors board, as will Anthony Griffin, Trent Barrett, Neil Henry, Jason Ryles, Geoff Toovey, Wayne Bennett and Craig Bellamy.
Payten becomes the Warriors 12th coach in 21 years - an alarming turnover of coaches by the Auckland-based club that translates to a new coach every 18 months
The former premiership-winning Wests Tiger forward's journey to the NRL hot seat includes a respected tutelage.
After retiring as a 259-game player in 2011, Payten began his coaching career as the title-winning under-20s coach of his former club in 2012.
In the process, Payten helped develop James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Luke Brooks before they made the jump to first grade.
He was a consideration to replace Mick Potter when he was sacked by the Tigers in 2014 after moving to Townsville to become the Cowboys under-20s coach and then Paul Green's assistant during their premiership year of 2015.
He linked with the Warriors last season to work alongside Kearney - yet here he is now, with a chance to show the ruthless Warriors board that he's no longer an apprentice, but an NRL-ready coach.
Unfortunately for Payten, his interim appointment won't stop the resumes of unemployed coaches filling the Warriors' inbox.
Originally published as Sacking Kearney will cost Warriors $2 million