Ben Francis: Ten candidates to replace Stephen Kearney as NZ Warriors coach

OPINION: Stephen Kearney's sacking as NZ Warriors coach came as a huge surprise, but really it shouldn't have.

On Saturday, Kearney was relieved of his duties, despite having two more years on his contract. 

Given his record and inconsistencies during his tenure, his departure is no surprise, but due to the unusual circumstances around the Warriors' season, many felt he could be given more time to turn things around. 

Friday's 40-12 loss to the South Sydney Rabbitohs proved the final straw. After 79 games in charge, Kearney finishes with a win rate of 41.8 percent.

Kearney's heart was in the right place, but other than the Warriors' five-game unbeaten stretch in 2018, they rarely recorded back-to-back wins, which was incredibly frustrating. 

While it's unclear why the Warriors decided to pull the trigger now, management might feel the sooner they bring in a new coach, the sooner he can start building a team for 2021, with 12 players off contract at the end of this season. 

After taking the Kiwis to the 2008 World Cup, three consecutive test wins over Australia and 2014 Four Nations success, Kearney stood down from the national team in 2016 to take control of a club he had represented for four seasons (1995-98) as a player. 

Assistant coach Todd Payten will take charge as interim coach, while the club begins the search for Kearney's full-time replacement.

Here are some coaches they should consider. 

Geoff Toovey

NRL coaching record: Manly Sea Eagles (2012-15) won 61, drawn one, lost 43

The Warriors could do with a hard-nosed coach prepared to take risks and Toovey is that man. 

Toovey led the Sea Eagles to three top-four finishes, featured in one Grand Final, one Grand Final qualifier and also possessed an impressive 58 percent win ratio.

Geoff Toovey.
Geoff Toovey. Photo credit: Photosport

After missing the playoffs by one game in 2015, he was sacked and his dismissal still baffles the rugby league community. 

He has been out of the game for a while, but has previously proved he can get the job done. 

Toovey applied for the Kiwis job after Kearney's departure and previously voiced his support for a second NZ-based NRL side. 

Craig Fitzgibbon

NRL coaching record: N/A

While he has no head coaching  experience, Fitzgibbon has been Trent Robinson's right hand man at Sydney Roosters and could easily bring some of those skills to the Warriors.

He's a born winner, after a successful playing career at NRL, Origin and international levels, before continuing that into the coaching ranks. 

Newcastle Knights coach Adam O'Brien has come from successful systems at the Storm and the Roosters, and there is no evidence to suggest Fitzgibbon couldn't do the same. 

Jason Ryles 

NRL coaching record: N/A

Similar to Fitzgibbon, Ryles was a successful player and has worked under successful coaches, including Craig Bellamy and Eddie Jones, who we will get to later. 

Jason Ryles, who has worked to help England's defence in the past, will take over as skills coach in November.
Jason Ryles, who has worked to help England's defence in the past, will take over as skills coach in November. Photo credit: Getty

He is due to the take up a permanent role under Jones at England Rugby at the end of the year, but a possible NRL head-coaching role could be too good to turn down 

Anthony Griffin

NRL coaching record: Brisbane Broncos (2011-14) won 54, drawn one, lost 46

Penrith Panthers (2016-18) won 42, lost 30

Similar to Toovey, Griffin is a hard-nose coach with plenty of NRL and playoffs experience.

Remember, he was sacked by the Panthers just four weeks out from the finals with his side sitting in fifth. 

Anthony Griffin.
Anthony Griffin. Photo credit: Getty

While his exit from Penrith was messy, he helped lay the foundation for Ivan Cleary to return to the Blue Mountains and eventually bask in glory.

Last year, Griffin helped guide Tonga to victories over England and Australia in the 2019 Rugby League Oceanic Cup as an assistiant. 

The Warriors - a team that has made the finals twice since 2011 - can't go wrong with a man who has made the finals every year he has coached in the NRL. 

Nathan Brown

NRL coaching record: St George Illawarra Dragons (2003-08) won 81, lost 71 

Newcastle Knights (2016-19) won 24, drawn one, lost 69

Brown worked as an assistant coach with the Warriors in the pre-season, so he already has his foot in the door. 

Nathan Brown spent time at the Warriors earlier this season.
Nathan Brown spent time at the Warriors earlier this season. Photo credit: Photosport

He would join the team with plenty of NRL head-coaching and assistant experience, while he won a Super League title with St Helen's. 

His record at the Knights wasn't pretty, but he helped rebuild the team for O'Brien to take over and look at how well they're going this year 

Kevin Walters

NRL coaching record: N/A

Walters is currently Queensland State of Origin head coach and previously coached Catalan Dragons in the English Super League. 

He has had stints working under Wayne Bennett and Bellamy, and is respected enough to lure players across the Tasman. 

He was linked to the Gold Coast Titans role, but wasn't interested. Maybe the Warriors would be more enticing. 

Eddie Jones

NRL coaching record: N/A

The current England rugby head coach has never coached rugby league at an elite level, but he reportedly wants to give it a crack, so why not? 

He has lots of experience as a leader and, as Michael Cheika says, if he gets some good assistants, he could be a force. 

Remember, he helped turn Japan into a rugby powerhouse and currently has a strong influence in the UK 

Ben & Shane Walker

NRL coaching record: N/A

The brothers have been pushing for an NRL gig for some time and have applied for many roles without much luck. 

They worked as co-coaches with the Ipswich Jets in the Queensland Cup and their teams were known for attacking flair that would thrive with the new NRL rules. 

Chris, Shane and Ben Walker.
Chris, Shane and Ben Walker. Photo credit: Getty

Before coronavirus struck, Shane was doing the role solo in 2020, after Ben stood aside, but he could be drawn back to coaching if an NRL position came up. 

Their style of play is risky and attack-focused, but when have the Warriors always been at their best - when they throw the ball around. The brothers may be able to get the best out the Warriors attackers, who consistently failed to fire under Kearney. 

John Cartwright

NRL coaching record: Gold Coast Titans (2007-14) won 86, lost 100

Cartwright hasn't been in a head coaching role for some time, but had some success when he was there. 

He's better known as an assistant, helping the Roosters to the title in 2002 and the Cowboys in 2015. 

He currently works under Des Hasler at the Manly Sea Eagles and is known for his defence - and defence wins championships. 

Shaun Wane

NRL coaching record: N/A

Wane has no NRL coaching experience, but has been a huge success in the Super League, winning three titles with Wigan Warriors.

Shaun Wane.
Shaun Wane. Photo credit: Photosport

He recently replaced Wayne Bennett as England national coach and would be an outsider for the role, but knows how to win.

Ben Francis is Newshub online sports producer

Contact Newshub with your story tips:
news@newshub.co.nz