Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Frustration builds as Watson hurls 'kitchen sink' at Warriors

Eric Watson has completed his 17th year as Warriors owner. Photo / Richard Robinson
Eric Watson has completed his 17th year as Warriors owner. Photo / Richard Robinson

Eric Watson says that if his latest Warriors master plan doesn't work, he's gone - over and out.

Over the last week, Stephen Kearney has been brought in as the new head coach at Mt Smart, with Andrew McFadden staying on as an assistant.

Kearney will have two more assistants, as well as the support of a high-powered football advisory board, including Sir Graham Henry, ex-NFL coach Eric Mangini and former Warrior Awen Guttenbeil. There will be even more resources, manpower and money poured into the club.

After five years of pain, is it the last roll of the dice?

"Yup, stuff it, if it doesn't work, gone," says Watson, who has just completed his 17th season as Warriors' owner. "Sell it. Need a new owner."

It emerges later in the interview that he's joking - "I want to win this thing.

I'm never going to give up." - but there is no doubt time is ticking, and there needs to be a tangible payoff from the latest strategy.

"We are throwing the kitchen sink at it," admits Watson. "It has to work. Over what period? The next one, two, three years. We have a great CEO in Jim Doyle. He could be running a Fortune 500 company. Stephen Kearney is the perfect New Zealander to lead the New Zealand Warriors. [And we have] created a specialised board that is all about sport; leadership practices, best practices, global practices, mental skills, psychological skills. We are throwing a lot of resource at this. We have a lot of great people."

Watson spoke at the Warriors awards night last Tuesday with a candidness unusual at such occasions. While there was an underlying optimism, he bemoaned the way the 2016 season bottomed out, admitted there was an inherent fragility within the team and organisation and left the players in no doubt about his disappointment with some pointed remarks in their direction.

He's clearly frustrated.

"Simon Mannering should not win that gong every year," said Watson, in reference to Mannering's fifth Player of the Year award.

"Should we spread that around a little bit guys? Come on, we have to get a lot tougher. [And] that whole prescription drugs thing really pisses me off. We can't afford off-field incidents that distract away from winning on-field."

Watson lamented the soft underbelly at the club, a perception that has rung true since 2012.

"We have to get rid of that," he said. "We have to have consistent performance. It's the toughness that we don't have and that's what the Australian teams have. [But] in a way, it's always been like this. You look back at articles from 1995 and 1996 and it was 'Warriors Unpredictable'.

The Auckland club have reached the playoffs on seven occasions during Watson's tenure, with two grand finals (2002 and 2011) and two preliminary finals (2003 and 2008). But they have under-achieved over the last five years, topped off by this year's flop which sealed McFadden's fate.

"You could see several weeks out, if we made [the top eight] we were just going to make it," said Watson. "It wasn't good enough. We needed to push the go button on some [other] options."

Watson, though, is happy that McFadden has stayed with the club.

"He's well respected, tough, resilient and I did throw him in the deep end as a young guy," he said.

Watson remains bullish about the future, especially the impact of the football advisory board.

"We have been working on it all year ... the board will meet with the coaching group and senior players and all they will talk about is how can we be the best in the world."

Watson is hopeful the club will secure the signature of Kieran Foran.

"He's important. It's important for the sport; important he has a year of doing well ... and being part of our organisation."

- Herald on Sunday

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