Here are a few things you might not know about Stephen Kearney: He loves cooking shows, is currently reading Steven Gerrard's autobiography, is a Bikram Yoga devotee and wants the Kiwis to dominate for the next decade.

Well, OK, maybe you had an inkling of the last one.

"That's what I want," says Kearney. "You want to build something so you are on top for a long time. Why not? Not just one year but a sustained period of time."

At the moment, it feels like Kearney is at the peak of his powers.


He has overseen a remarkable period of success over the past 12 months, a period unmatched in the modern era.

Three consecutive wins over Australia, the Anzac test drought broken and the Four Nations trophy captured on home soil.

The 2-1 series loss to England was a setback but won't leave too much of a scar as an under-strength Kiwis team pushed England closer than most expected.

Kearney has won more tests (23) than any other Kiwis coach, including a record five against the Kangaroos. And he has been involved in 86 test matches for his country, either as a player (45) or coach (41), an extraordinary record of service.

Will the 2017 World Cup be the swansong? "At the moment, I take it one year at a time," Kearney says. "That's all I can say."

As a youngster, Kearney was always focused on achieving his Winfeld Cup dream. He had other plans - maybe a policeman ("because Sam Stewart was"), an army chef or a builder - but league was the overwhelming focus.

His bedroom was plastered with Rugby League Week covers and posters - "we didn't have wall-paper so that was the next best thing" - with idols such as Les Davidson, Ian Roberts and Mark Graham staring down.

In one magazine, his Kapiti Coast Bears coach Manu Parata noticed an advertisement for a junior league training camp in Australia. After some fundraising, Kearney went and had his first encounter with Wayne Bennett.


"Wayne walked over after a game and said, 'Well done son, where are you from?' I said Wellington and he asked if it was near Newcastle. 'No', I said, 'New Zealand', and he walked off. We still joke about that now."

Kearney progressed steadily, standing out with his professional attitude.

"I remember running an NZRL seminar for young players," says Frank Endacott. "Most of the boys were down the back, heads down, not saying much. One kid sat in the front row, full of questions. Afterwards they told me his name was Stephen Kearney."

That kid was soon a Kiwi and became the youngest ever captain (21) in 1993.

He was a key figure in Endacott's successful Kiwis teams of the 1990s and won a premiership with the Melbourne Storm in 1999 but the drive to improve never subsided.

"He was my room-mate on my first Kiwis tour [in 2002]," recalls Motu Tony. "In the morning, when I was rushing around getting ready for training, he was sitting on the bed making notes about what he wanted to achieve in the session."

That meticulous, driven approach saw Kearney achieve 45 tests, behind only Ruben Wiki, Gary Freeman and Stacey Jones.

By February 2008, barely two years after his last game (for Hull), Kearney was appointed Kiwis coach.

 Jordan Kahu kicks a drop-goal during the International Rugby League Test Series match with England. Photo / Getty
Jordan Kahu kicks a drop-goal during the International Rugby League Test Series match with England. Photo / Getty

There were early highs - a World Cup and Four Nations title - before a significant plateau. By the time of the 2013 World Cup, he had recorded just three wins over Australia and England since the 2008 edition. There was already significant pressure on his job, which only intensified after the awful Old Trafford finale. But he survived. He admitted his failings at the last World Cup.

"Stephen was man enough to put his hand up, to say he got some things wrong," says Kiwis assistant coach David Kidwell.

He was seen as conservative during the first half of his reign, his game plans resembling the highly-structured strategies of the Storm. It was a departure from the traditional Kiwis way and not always popular with fans.

However, Kearney has found a happy medium over the past 18 months; a game still built on possession and territory, but one where players can express themselves.

"If something is on, we can go for it," says Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

"Mooks [Kearney] backs us to have a go. We play with a lot more energy now," says Lewis Brown.

"The big results we have got haven't been from a structured game plan. It's been from playing with our hearts on our sleeves."

And Kearney has rebuilt the culture and environment in the Kiwis. After difficulties on previous Northern Hemisphere trips (2011 and 2013), the 2015 tour was notably harmonious.

"It's probably a bit more enjoyable now," says Kevin Proctor. "Back in 2011, the culture was a bit different. The older guys were a little bit different to the older guys now. Everyone is welcomed into the group and on the same level."

"Maybe a few years ago, we relied on superstars to get us across the line," Brown says. "We play more of a team game now. Everyone is equal [and] it has shown in the results."

Thanks to the many New Zealanders in the NRL and Kearney's willingness to blood young players, the Kiwis have good depth, probably greater than any other time.

"That's what you want," says Kearney. "You want guys pushing to get in, so no one takes it for granted."

Kearney must keep striving, too, with at least four tests next year and a busy schedule with the Broncos. But for now, he's on holiday.

Head coach puts club idea on hold

Stephen Kearney has put any NRL head coaching ambitions on hold. Photo / Getty
Stephen Kearney has put any NRL head coaching ambitions on hold. Photo / Getty

Stephen Kearney has put any NRL head coaching ambitions on hold until at least 2018.

The Kiwis coach, who has been linked to several club roles in recent years, is contracted to the NZRL until the 2017 World Cup. And he says combining an NRL head coach's position with an international job is not feasible, perhaps after his experience at Parramatta.

Kearney took on the Eels role in 2011. After a promising start, things went downhill, although results weren't helped by factional in-fighting off the field, a pattern which continues at Parramatta.

Aside from the personal toll, it also affected his Kiwis position and the 2011 Four Nations campaign was one of the worst in recent memory.

Midway through the 2012 season, Kearney exited Parramatta.

"I don't think you could do justice to both jobs," said Kearney. "The Kiwis role just gets bigger and bigger, and it takes a lot of your time. It's not feasible to consider both."

He wasn't the first coach to try it. Former Warriors coach Daniel Anderson juggled both for a period before he left Mt Smart midway through the 2004 season.

Australia have also often combined the roles. Tim Sheens was in a dual capacity for three seasons between 2009 and 2012 (Tigers and Kangaroos), and Ricky Stuart shared his national responsibilities with Roosters and Cronulla duties respectively. Earlier this decade, Wayne Bennett was in charge of the Kangaroos while still head coach at the Broncos.

But the ARL have also recognised that doubling up is no longer viable - nor optimal - and have already announced that no current NRL head coach will be eligible to take on the vacant Kangaroos job.