NZRL wanted to avoid NZ cricket's mistakes

By Michael Brown

Simon Mannering speaks to media after being named the new captain of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images
Simon Mannering speaks to media after being named the new captain of the Kiwis. Photo / Getty Images

The New Zealand Rugby League and Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney were mindful of the fallout from Ross Taylor's messy sacking as New Zealand cricket captain last year but still felt strongly about replacing Benji Marshall as Kiwis skipper.

Taylor's deposition as captain last year left a stain on cricket and coach Mike Hesson but the NZRL and Kearney don't appear to have repeated any of the mistakes this week. They have seemingly been up front and transparent, even though it was a risk sacking one of the most popular and high-profile rugby league players, and wanted to do it before the NRL season started so they could attack planning for the defence of the World Cup in the UK and France later this year.

NZRL high performance manager Tony Kemp said fallout from cricket's handling of their captaincy change was a "major concern of ours'' but they were fully supportive of Kearney's decision to dump Marshall.

It's one Kearney said he had been agonising over for some time but always came back to the same answer and he was also mindful about doing it in the right way.

"For me, there was no way I was going to ask Simon if he wanted to be captain without speaking to Benji first,'' Kearney said. "I was upfront with Benji right through the whole process. There were no shenanigans going on there. It was a decision that I thought was best for the team and I was as honest as I could be with Benji. That's all we could do.''

Kearney was also worried about how Marshall would react and whether it would affect his passion for the Kiwis.

"That was a concern on my part. He remains an integral part of the team and is a member of the senior leadership group and his input is still very much valued. That was a worry but he told me he's committed to what we are trying to do. He understands it's a decision I have made with the team's best interests at heart. In terms of his disappointment, he's not going to hide that but he's a big lad. He's overcome hurdles before. His focus now is on performing and doing well so we can retain the World Cup."

Marshall was a hugely influential figure at the last campaign in 2008 and was again to the fore when he captained the Kiwis to the 2010 Four Nations title but his form for both club and country has been patchy over the past two seasons.

Kearney wanted to take some of the burden off his chief playmaker in the hope he will be back to something close to his best at the World Cup.

He has no such concerns over Mannering, who will step up from the vice-captaincy he held last year.

"It was an agonising decision and one I took a lot of time over,'' Kearney said. "Every time I was thinking about a suitable replacement, Simon just kept coming to mind. It was a no-brainer from my point of view. He's a well respected individual in the rugby league community, has played 30 tests and every time he plays for the Kiwis he delivers.''

Mannering, who has been Warriors captain for the past two seasons, said he jumped at the chance when asked to take over the Kiwis captaincy.

"A huge honour, not only to be considered for the role but to be actually given it,'' he said. "It's probably the biggest honour you can have in the game to lead your country. I'm looking forward to the new challenges in the new role and looking forward to doing what I can for the team. In my role I just want to put the team first. It's a big year for the Kiwis and we will do everything we can to defend the World Cup.''

- APNZ

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