Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess: Mt Smart fans will cut coach some slack

Kearney is the local boy made good, an outstanding Kiwi player who has achieved unprecedented success as national coach. Photo / Photosport
Kearney is the local boy made good, an outstanding Kiwi player who has achieved unprecedented success as national coach. Photo / Photosport

A new dawn, a new beginning, and very definitely some new hope.

For the umpteenth time in their history, the Warriors are starting over although, in typical fashion,the Auckland club put their own twist on things yesterday.

Not just Stephen Kearney as the new man in charge, but the former head coach staying on to work with him as an assistant. There is also a grandly named "football advisory board" that features Sir Graham Henry, as well as an ex-NFL coach and a board member who has worked with Nato's military command.

Whew. That's a lot to take in, but the only question that matters is: will it work?

This time next year, will the Warriors be playing in the finals, rather than watching on television as the club conducts yet another review?

At the moment, nobody knows. Managing director Jim Doyle asserted yesterday that it was "not a risk at all" to appoint yet another coach with limited NRL experience, but it's certainly a gamble.

Kearney has assembled a decent CV, especially with his work with the Kiwis, but has only 42 games in the week-to-week grind of an NRL head coach.

As McFadden himself said last week, there is no real pathway to prepare you for the chief role - you have to learn on the job. Kearney will need to learn fast, especially with the ongoing pressure and expectation on the Warriors. Fans will have some patience, but will get nervy if the club aren't in reach of the playoffs next winter.

Once it was decided McFadden wouldn't be continuing, there were only three realistic contenders: Kearney, Ivan Cleary and Geoff Toovey.

Cleary must have been hampered by his past association with the club, with Doyle and Eric Watson probably adopting the never-go-back mantra, despite Cleary's obvious pedigree. Toovey has never played or coached outside Brookvale and his appointment would have entailed a lengthy transition process for club and coach.

Kearney is the local boy made good, an outstanding Kiwi player who has achieved unprecedented success as national coach. He has a strong relationship with Doyle and has worked with many of the Warriors roster.

There is no real pathway to prepare you for the chief role - you have to learn on the job

And, if Parramatta was the wrong time, wrong place, then this is definitely the right time for Kearney, and hopefully the right place. He has had four years as assistant at Brisbane (two under Wayne Bennett), reaching the finals on three occasions, since those dark Eels days.

More importantly, Kearney has re-invented himself as a coach through his experience with the Kiwis and their failed 2013 World Cup campaign. He rebuilt the team's culture and was also forced to re-tool his approach, which led to the triumphant 2014 Four Nations campaign and three successive victories over the Kangaroos.

Kearney is also taking over the Warriors at an opportune time. Although McFadden was always unlikely to stay on after the way the team bottomed out, he has left some decent foundations. There is a crop of promising young players with NRL game time, and training standards much higher than were ever achieved under the Matt Elliott regime.

Kearney will bring his own approach, and an even greater emphasis on culture and discipline. For now, long-suffering supporters will settle for a finals game in 2017. Or two.

- NZ Herald

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Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Michael Burgess is the football and rugby league writer for the Herald on Sunday. He was named the 2013 New Zealand football writer of the year and was a finalist in the Sports Reporter of the year at the 2014 Canon Media Awards.

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