NZRL invest in Kearney for another two years

By Michael Brown

The NZRL see Stephen Kearney as their Graham Henry and are convinced Kearney can do with the Kiwis what Henry achieved with the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.
The NZRL see Stephen Kearney as their Graham Henry and are convinced Kearney can do with the Kiwis what Henry achieved with the All Blacks. Photo / Getty Images.

The NZRL see Stephen Kearney as their Graham Henry and are convinced Kearney can do with the Kiwis what Henry achieved with the All Blacks.

Kearney will tomorrow be confirmed as Kiwis coach for the next two years after seeing off challenges from David Kidwell, Richie Blackmore and Australian Glenn Morrison. He was the favourite throughout the entire reappointment process, given the level of support he enjoys in the corridors of the NZRL and with the players, and talks about having "unfinished business''.

That might involve holistic goals but the biggest one is becoming more competitive with Australia and, ultimately, winning the next World Cup.

NZRL chief executive Phil Holden has drawn parallels between Kearney and Henry when the All Blacks coach sought another term after the dismal showing at the 2007 World Cup.

Henry confounded many to be reappointed over Robbie Deans, with the NZRU citing Henry's experience and record as key factors. They also pointed out changing every four years hadn't worked previously, so it was time to do something different.

They were ultimately vindicated when the All Blacks won the 2011 World Cup, and Henry is now Sir Graham, but they were very lucky given the All Blacks beat France by only one point in the final and we will never know what Deans might have been able to achieve with the same group.

Things are vastly different in rugby league. The Kiwis play far fewer tests meaning Kearney rarely gets his hands on the players and the Kiwis have never been league's dominant power.

Kearney has built up considerable knowledge over his five years in the job and the NZRL clearly feel this is worth investing in. They also point to the fact changes were made to the management on the eve of the tournament and it will take time for these to bed in.

There's no doubt the team is run more professionally than in the past and greater resources in both money and personnel have been pumped into the side. It's one thing that struck Ivan Cleary, who was brought in as assistant for the World Cup, who said he had rarely come across a more professional outfit.

But results haven't changed much under Kearney, and that has to be the most important thing.

The Kiwis have beaten Australia only twice under Kearney's watch (2008 World Cup final and 2010 Four Nations final) and were dismantled by the Kangaroos 34-2 in last year's World Cup final. They also had disappointing Four Nations campaigns in 2009 and 2011, although many of the top players were missing.

Perhaps the most compelling reason Kearney was reappointed was the fact there was little competition and the NZRL didn't attract the calibre of applicants they might have hoped for.

Blackmore needs experience outside New Zealand and Morrison was an interesting proposition but also needs more time. Kidwell was the main contender but he, too, is a relative novice with one season as an under-20s coach and three as an NRL assistant.

He is a promising coach and is open to the idea of working with the Kiwis in an assistant capacity.

The NZRL should look to invest in Kidwell but their biggest investment has clearly been in Kearney. Now he needs to show he's worth it.

Henry admitted he made mistakes leading up to 2007. Kearney needs to do things differently, too, if he expects results to change.

- APNZ

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