NRL: Axe hanging over coach McClennan

By Steve Deane

Warriors coach Brian McClennan Picture / Greg Bowker.
Warriors coach Brian McClennan Picture / Greg Bowker.

Warriors coach Brian McClennan could be sacked as early as Sunday if the club suffers another embarrassing defeat at home to the last-placed Penrith Panthers.

The Herald understands McClennan is on the shortest of leashes, with club owners Owen Glenn and Eric Watson likely to take decisive action if there is any repeat of the horrific 45-4 defeat inflicted by the Sharks at Mt Smart a fortnight ago.

With the rookie coach having been left exposed by a terrible injury toll and lack of adequate cover by the down-sizing of the first team squad, there is plenty of sympathy at the club for McClennan's predicament.

He may yet survive the season and be given a chance to rectify matters next year - potentially in an alliance with Stephen Kearney - however, that will happen only if McClennan can halt what has been a dramatic five-match slide on Sunday.

A heavy defeat to Ivan Cleary's Panthers - the equal-last placed club on the NRL ladder - would be deemed unacceptable, with McClennan almost certain to be dismissed.

If he does survive it will be under a revamped coaching structure that could include Kearney. The club has identified a lack of support for McClennan as one of the major failings this year. It plans to appoint a second assistant coach alongside Tony Iro, with Kearney identified as a leading contender to fill that role.

The opportunity to keep his hand in at NRL level while also preparing the Kiwis in a World Cup year is seen as a good fit for Kearney, although whether he would be prepared to work under McClennan is unclear.

Kearney will be a guest of club management at Sunday's game. He hasn't been offered a position but is being sounded out about his interest.

"It's an opportunity to catch up with the Kiwis staff and, you know, sort of see if an opportunity presents itself at the Warriors," Kearney said in a radio interview yesterday.

Should McClennan be axed, Kearney may be seen as a ready-made replacement. Despite two unsuccessful seasons at Parramatta that ended with him being sacked last month with over a year remaining on his contract, Kearney is still viewed as a coach with a big future.

McClennan, who has a year remaining on his contract, confirmed he had held discussions about his future but he didn't divulge any details.

"That's something I can't talk about publicly," he said. "Their [owners'] expectations and my own and my team's are no different anyway. We're all really determined to get to the light, get some positive stuff out of it."

McClennan rejected reports that he would quit if results didn't improve.

"No, that's untrue and no, I haven't considered that."

The 2005 Tri-Nations winner and two-time Super League-winning coach has consistently stated that responsibility for this season's disappointing results rests with him. Fate, though, has not been kind. On Sunday, in a match that may well decide his future, he will field a side missing three crucial players - regular captain Simon Mannering, key prop Ben Matulino and fullback Kevin Locke.

"I drive the bus, I'm responsible for the results at the end of the day," McClennan said.

"When I say it's not about me, I like players to not have that pressure on them. But, at the end of the day, what's happened is we've all got pressure on us. We've got members and fans that have expectations of how we should play and we've not lived up to those. We're working really hard here to turn this slump around.

"It's just been really poor form by us the last two weeks. We're desperate to turn it around and we're at home. It's so important we come out of it with a little bit of joy - it's been a sad place the last few weeks.

"This has certainly been the biggest learning curve I've ever had. I've been in the game all my life. Hopefully we can perform well over the next few weeks and I get a chance to do something about the lessons I've learned over this year."

- NZ Herald

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