Stephen Kearney holds on to Kiwis coach job

FUTURE LOOKING BRIGHTER: Stephen Kearney looks like he will be keeping his job with the Kiwis.
FUTURE LOOKING BRIGHTER: Stephen Kearney looks like he will be keeping his job with the Kiwis.

Stephen Kearney has survived an arduous post-World Cup review and will be retained as the head coach of the Kiwis.

After his New Zealand side was comprehensively trounced 34-2 by the Kangaroos in the Rugby League World Cup final last year, the off-contract Kearney was forced to reapply for the position and was one of four shortlisted candidates along with former Kiwis David Kidwell and Richie Blackmore and Australian Glenn Morrison.

The four would-be coaches were interviewed last week and an appointments panel is understood to have made a recommendation to the New Zealand Rugby League board to stick with Kearney. It's understood the board has since rubberstamped the recommendation, meaning Kearney, also an assistant coach with the Brisbane Broncos, will resume his duties in charge of the national team.

His reappointment will come after strong lobbying from key Kiwis players and will extend his tenure as national coach into a seventh year despite a poor record against the world's top-ranked Australian team.

Kearney took over in 2008, replacing Gary Kemble after a particularly torrid tour to England a year earlier in which the Kiwis lost all three tests against Great Britain. In his first year and with the help of assistant Wayne Bennett, he guided the Kiwis to World Cup glory in Brisbane before taking out the Four Nations title two years later.

They are the high points of his record. The sour side is his two wins-in-15 tests record against Australia, including the lamentable surrender of the World Cup crown late last year. The controversy around allegations that some Kiwis players mixed prescription drugs and energy drinks during the World Cup campaign also happened on Kearney's watch.

NZRL chairman Scott Carter would not comment on the coaching appointment yesterday, other than to say an announcement would be made shortly.

"This is a board appointment and the board has been very much part of the interview and decision-making process," Carter said, before adding that "an announcement will be made this coming week".

There are also suggestions that Kidwell will be offered an assistant coaching position with the Kiwis. Kidwell, in New Zealand for the Auckland Nines, declined to be interviewed on the subject. But while Kidwell may be offered an assistant's job, Kearney's World Cup assistant, ex-Warriors coach Ivan Cleary, wants to carry on.

"Personally I'd love to see Stephen get the gig," said Cleary, also in Auckland for the Nines. "He's invested a lot of time, emotion and energy into that position. He's now very experienced at the role and he's still a young man. I think he'd certainly do the country proud."

It's not known if the NZRL spoke to Cleary about his views on Kearney but several senior players in recent weeks have publicly called for his reappointment. Among them Kieran Foran, who is considered the next Kiwis captain, veteran winger Jason Nightingale and prop Ben Matulino.

It also didn't hurt Kearney's cause that coaching legend Wayne Bennett retains a high opinion of his ability.

Cleary felt that although the World Cup campaign had failed, it would still produce long-term benefits for the Kiwis.

"I thought the side played really well in that first month," he said. "Unfortunately our form dipped at the end which is not what you want. Having said that, Australia were just phenomenal in the final. But overall the Kiwis are definitely making strides and certainly heading in the right direction and I'm looking forward to seeing the progression."

Cleary confirmed he is keen to retain an assistant role with the Kiwis provided he can balance the job with his head coaching commitments at the Penrith Panthers.

Meanwhile, it's understood the Rugby League International Federation will announce this week whether Australia and New Zealand will host the next World Cup tournament in 2017 or if it will go to South Africa. The joint trans-Tasman bid is favoured.

Sunday Star Times