4:00 PM - By PETER JESSUP
Gary "The Whizz" Freeman is set to be named new Kiwi coach tomorrow as the New Zealand Rugby League pursues an Australian approach to beating the Aussies.
Freeman is the only contender from the final four recommended by the coaching selection panel that is actively involved in the Australian NRL system, albeit in junior grades. He was assistant coach to Wayne Pearce at Balmain, missed out on the West Tigers coaching job to local Terry Lamb, and has since been taking under-16s.
Freeman's first coaching contact with the NZRL came a couple of years ago when he and another ex-Kiwi Sam Stewart picked a team of Aussie-resident players with New Zealand passports or parents and brought them to an under-16s tournament at Hopu Hopu.
It's a big step from that to the national job, though he'll have time to ease himself in, with two tests against France in June prior to the big one, Australia in Wellington in July.
The selection of 42-test Kiwi and 39-year-old Freeman over the top three New Zealand coaches can only have come because the NZRL selection panel of ex-Kiwi Jarrod McCracken, ex-Kiwi coach Graham Lowe and board member Bob Haddon believe the best method to beat the Kangaroos is to implement their system.
Eliminated at the final hurdle after 10 others had been knocked out were Junior Kiwi and NZRL/Warriors foundation coach and 19-test Kiwi Gary Kemble, former Auckland star winger and winning world nines coach Graeme Norton, and Residents XIII and Bartercard Cup-winning coach Gerard Stokes.
The three are victims of circumstance in that the board appears to have decided local competition is not advanced enough to provide the answers to winning against Anzac test and World Cup nemesis Australia.
Norton, Stokes and Kemble will surely be given the opportunity to progress their international careers, the board having already accepted local players from age 16-up need more international exposure.
But that may come down to how they take the knock-back, and could depend on Freeman's input: The board wants to new coach and the JKs and Residents coaches pulling in the same direction, no Hart/Wyllie-type battles.
Freeman, married with two kids, lives in Sydney and should be able to keep tabs on most of his likely starters there.
There was another option - to head-hunt a top Australian coach - but it was apparently rejected.
Freeman's appointment will be for 12 months, first assignment France at Palmerston North on June 11, then at Carlaw Park a week later. Aussie are here July 13 at the Caketin.
If he fails the board has the option of looking elsewhere, with three years up to the next World Cup and success meaning he'll probably keep the job for that.
It's likely, given Freeman's inexperience at top level, that the board will return to the practice of appointing selectors, probably two - McCracken could be in the running as one of those.
As a pointer to his likely approach, he always reckoned his best coach was Warren Ryan, the master tactician. When he was first picked as Kiwi halfback in 1986 when Lowe was coach, then-captain Mark Graham made Freeman clean his (Graham's) boots- Freeman didn't like it.
In 1989 Freeman permanently displaced Clayton Friend at halfback despite coming from Balmain's reserve grade after serving a 12-week ban for eye gouging.
By 1991 he was captain, one glorious 24-8 victory over Aussie at Olympic Park, Melbourne, followed by a humiliating 44-0 defeat at Sydney when McCracken was sent off for punching Aussie five-eighth Peter Jackson. He was dumped as captain by coach Howie Tamati during the disastrous tour of England in 1993, youngest-ever captain Stephen Kearney the replacement.
The NZRL board was continuing interviews yesterday to decide on a general manager to replace Gary Allcock. Next month it will meet again to settle a new administration including chairman, Gerald Ryan expected to resign after six years, favourite to replace him Auckland league boss Selwyn Pearson.
Freeman: a short history
Gary Freeman born 4/12/1961
First played for Blockhouse Bay age 7.
Attended Rangitoto College.
Debut for Northcote first grade age 17, 1981.
Northcote 1981-87, 123 games.
Off-seasons at Castleford 1983/84; 17 games.
Balmain 1988 - 1991; 50 games.
Eastern Suburbs 1992-93; 35 games.
Penrith 1994/95; 22 games.
Parramatta 1996; 21 games.
Kiwi 1986-1993; 42 tests, seven as captain 1991-93.
4:00 PM - By PETER JESSUP