By Chris Rattue
Frank Endacott was reappointed Kiwi rugby league coach for a further two years yesterday, on what was a momentous day for rugby league in this country.
The return of Endacott came on a day when the Auckland Warriors signed a seven-year licence with the National Rugby League.
In terms of long-term significance, the Warriors' licence deal may be the most important of yesterday's events.
Only NRL champions Brisbane, Newcastle and the new St George/Illawarra combination have been offered the long-term licences. The other 13 clubs will get just one-year deals, with the NRL competition to be cut to 16 or 14 teams in the year 2000.
"This is a new beginning," said Warriors chief executive Trevor McKewen.
"We were always concerned that there were some powerful people in Australia who did not want us there.
"But we are here to stay and now we have to get our act together on the field.
"It means that players like Stacey Jones, who comes off his contract this year, know there is a future in Auckland, and we can plan for the future without having to go for quick-fix solutions.
"We also see it as a vote of confidence for the new management."
The Warriors, who the Auckland Rugby League sold to a syndicate headed by Graham Lowe last year, have sometimes been the target of opposition in Sydney, where a number of clubs face the axe from the elite rugby league competition.
Endacott, meanwhile, will guide the Kiwis for what shapes as two historic years for international rugby league.
This year's schedule includes a one-off test against Great Britain in Johannesburg and a tri-series involving Great Britain and Australia to be played in New Zealand in Australia.
Next year, the Kiwis will make an assault on the World Cup, to be played in the Northern Hemisphere. It will be the first unified World Cup since an Australian team which comprised only players from the Australian Rugby League camp won the tournament in England in 1995.
Endacott said: "Coaching your country's team is the pinnacle and I've always been very proud of that."
Endacott, who was dumped as the Warriors coach by the club's new management, is by far the longest-serving Kiwi coach of modern times. He has been in charge since 1994.
He is understood to have sought a package worth about $80,000 a year which struck opposition from some board members. But an undisclosed deal between the NZRL and Endacott was sealed yesterday.
The Kiwis play an Anzac day test against Australia in Sydney and then have a break until the remainder of their tests at the end of the year. Endacott said he would use any down time to work with teams and coaches around the country. The former Cantabrian will remain living in Auckland.