Ben Francis: Who the NZ Warriors should appoint as coach

OPINION: Six weeks have passed since Stephen Kearney was sacked as NZ Warriors coach and who the next coach will be remains unclear. 

Chief executive Cameron George has made it clear that the selection panel - himself, owner Mark Robinson, chairman Rob Crott and club legend Simon Mannering - won't rush into making one of the club's biggest decisions in their 26-year history. 

While they want to make sure they get the right man, they also don't want to leave it too long and hamper things like recruitment, while current players are urging the panel to make a decision, which is expected sometime this month. 

The panel has reportedly said 'thanks, but no thanks' to former Manly Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey, and brothers Ben and Shane Walker, while Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy, Storm assistant Jason Ryles, Sydney Roosters assistant Craig Fitzgibbon and former Knights coach Nathan Brown - who worked as a consultant at the Warriors earlier this year - have ruled themselves out.

That only leaves a handful of candidates in contention, although it appears to be a three-horse race between currently Warriors interim Todd Payten, his former North Queensland Cowboys mentor Paul Green, who was sacked last month, and former Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers coach Anthony Griffin.

Two others with an outside chance are current England coach Shaun Wane, who has been linked to the role from the start, but hasn't spoken publicly, while South Sydney Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett has publicly declared he won't take the job, but reports from Australia insist the Warriors are aggressively pursuing the 70-year-old super coach. 

The list has narrowed significently since Kearney's sacking and the remaining candidates will battle it out to become the next fulltime coach. 

But what will each coach bring to the Warriors?

Todd Payten

Coaching career 

The 41-year played more than 250 NRL games - including the 2005 NRL Grand Final with the Tigers - before his first coaching role with their U20 side in 2012, a year after he retired.

In his first year, he led them to Grand Final glory with the likes of Marika Koroibete and David Nofoaluma in the line-up. Two years later, the Cowboys recruited him to coach their U20 side and assist Green.

That year, the Cowboys juniors finished second after the regular season, with the senior side winning their maiden NRL Premiership.

Todd Payten.
Todd Payten. Photo credit: Photosport

He spent two more years at the club - including in the 2017 Grand Final - before being recruited by the Warriors.

In May, he took over the Warriors on an interim basis for the rest of the season. 


Despite being in the job for six weeks, Payten appears to have earned the support of players that will be in the team moving forward, with hooker Wade Egan, forward Jazz Tevaga and halfback Kodi Nikorima voicing their support for the interim to become permanent. 

Since taking over, the Warriors have shown slight improvements and he has said all the right things, which is a bonus. 


While the playing group supports him, the selection panel might prefer someone who has been around longer.

An NRL 360 report claims the Warriors would like an experienced coach to work alongside Payten in 2021, before he takes over the following season. It's hard to imagine Payten would want that, considering he's also one of the favourites for the vancant Cowboys job.

Paul Green

Coaching career 

During his playing career, Green made 162 appearances across five clubs, including State of Origin with Queensland. He was a member of the 2002 champion Roosters side, although didn't play in the Grand Final win over the Warriors. 

After retiring, he worked at the Broncos as a halves/hooker coach, with the Brisbane franchise winning the title in 2006.

A few years later, he became assistant coach in Brisbane, before moving to their Queensland Cup feeder side - Wynnum Manly - as an assistant in 2010. A year later, he became head coach and won back-to-back titles. 

Paul Green celebrates with Johnathan Thurston after winning the 2015 NRL Grand Final.
Paul Green celebrates with Johnathan Thurston after winning the 2015 NRL Grand Final. Photo credit: Getty

He then joined the Roosters as the U20 coach and assistant coach - the juniors were eliminated by the Warriors and the senior side won the premiership. 

He was then appointed Cowboys head coach, a role he held until last month, when he was sacked. 

During his time, the Cowboys won two nines titles and 11 consecutive games during their 2015 title-winning run. They also reached the 2017 Grand Final, despite the absence of co-captains Matthew Scott and Johnathan Thurston.


Out of everyone available, he's the best-credentialed NRL club coach on the market, with two Grand Final appearances and a title to his name. His impressive resume speaks for itself, after many successful seasons in North Queensland. 


While the Warriors have the only vacant NRL role, Green has also been touted as a replacement for Anthony Seibold at the Broncos and John Morris at Cronulla Sharks - two clubs he previously played at.

Would Green rather stay closer to home or move across the Tasman to NZ?

You could also argue that Green's success was helped by having some big-name players at his disposal, including Jason Taumalolo and Thurston. After all, they did slip to fourth, eighth, 13th and 14th, after their heroic maiden premiership victory

Anthony Griffin 

Coaching career 

The Queenslander never made it to the NRL as a player, but had success in the Brisbane Rugby League premiership, now Queensland Cup.

After retiring, he coached teams in the premier Brisbane competition, before joining the Storm as an assistant. He then returned to Queensland, where he had stints with Souths Logan and Redcliffe Dolphins. 

Former Panthers coach Anthony Griffin.
Former Panthers coach Anthony Griffin. Photo credit: Getty

His first breakthrough came in 2008, when he coached the U20 Broncos to the Grand Final, with the likes of Ben Hunt and Jharal Yow Yeh in the side. In 2010, he was promoted to premiers assistant, before replacing Ivan Henjak as head coach the following year. 

Despite making the playoffs every year, he was sacked at the end of 2014, with Bennett returning to the club. After a year off, he became coach of the Panthers, a role he held until the backend of the 2018 season, when he was sacked to make room for Ivan Cleary's return, with the team sitting comfortably inside the eight. 

In 2019, he worked with the Tongan national team, which beat Australia and Great Britain in two extraordinary upsets. 


The fact Griffin has made the finals every season he's coached in the NRL is impressive. Six from six, if you include 2018, when he was sacked with a handful of games remaining, and he boasts a 56 percent win record across 173 NRL games.

His role with Tonga also can't go unnoticed.


Other than being out of the head-coaching game for two years, his dismissal from the Panthers got quite ugly, with questionable things said to the media. 

Phil Gould, who was the club's general manager at the time, said Griffin was to "old school", with Jamie Soward describing his gameplan as boring. Ben Hannett, who played under Griffin at the Broncos, felt he didn't have the skills to lead any team to an NRL title due, to his "old school methods". 

Shaun Wane 

Coaching career 

During his career, Wane played more than 150 games in England, most of them with his hometown Wigan Warriors. 

In 2003, he joined the team as the U18 coach and after a few years, was promoted to assistant under now-NZ Kiwis coach Michel Maguire. 

Wane became the new main man, after Maguire departed for the Rabbitohs, and he led Wigan to 161 wins in 238 games, and Super League titles in 2013, 2015 and 2018.

Shaun Wane.
Shaun Wane. Photo credit: Photosport

Wane was linked to the Warriors job in 2015, and reports at the time suggested he and his wife had looked for houses in Auckland during Wigan's trip to face the Warriors in 2014.  

He then stood down and was appointed coach of the England team last year, building towards next year's Rugby League World Cup. 


Regarded as one of the best coaches in the Super League era, Wane knows how to win. On top of that, he helped develop some of England's best players, including John Bateman and George Williams. 

Wigan players credit Wane for their successes and building a winning culture, and have nothing but posititive things to say about him. 


As we've seen in the past, Super League success doesn't always translate to the NRL. On top of that, Wane might not want to make the move to New Zealand at this time, due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Even though he's stated he would love to test himself in the NRL, Wane has his eyes set on next year's Rugby League World Cup and might not want a job until that's over. 

Wayne Bennett 

Coaching career 

Bennett's time as a coach stretches back to the 1970s, when he got his first role with Ipswich, after retiring as a player in the Brisbane Rugby League Premiership and for Queensland. 

After batting through the ranks in Queensland, he became state coach in 1986 and was appointed co-coach of Canberra Raiders the following year. 

He then became the inaugural Brisbane Broncos coach in 1988 and remained there for 20 years, winning six premierships along the way. 

Wayne Bennett.
Wayne Bennett. Photo credit: Photosport

In 2008, he 'assisted' Stephen Kearney, as the Kiwis won the Rugby League World Cup.

Bennett has since coached St George Illawarra Dragons (winning the 2010 NRL Premiership), Newcastle Knights, returned to the Broncos and now he's with the South Sydney Rabbitohs.


Other than his time with Newcastle, Bennett has had success wherever he's been. His longevity speaks for itself, especially in the salary-cap era. 

He also knows how to get the best out of players and even if he spent just one season at the Warriors, they would be better off in the long run. 

Bennett's Souths contract expires at the end of the 2021 season, with right-hand man Jason Demetriou already confirmed to take over. 


After Kearney's sacking, Bennett was immediately linked to the role, but just as quickly, he ruled out coming to New Zealand.

But remember in 2018, Bennett was adamant he would coach the Broncos the following season and not leave for Souths - and look what happened? 


While there are some good candidates, Wane and Bennett seem unlikely to get the job, leaving Green, Griffin and Payten.

During a pandemic and with a World Cup looming, Wane probably won't want to move halfway across the world to take on a challenging club job, while Bennett has been linked to every single rugby league job in the world.

Aren't Lithuania looking for a coach?

Wayne Bennett and Paul Green.
Wayne Bennett and Paul Green. Photo credit: Getty

Griffin appears to have some public support and could be the man to help turn the Warriors around in the short term, but questions remain about his success over a long period. 

He isn't afraid to swing the axe on experienced players and give young players a run, as Griffin is strong in player development. He is also believes in a strong defence, something the Warriors haven't had in some time. 

Paul Green would bring a championship mentality and, like Griffin, help develop the Warriors' young Kiwi players, but he seems destined for another role in the NRL. 

The Broncos and Sharks - two teams Green played for - are interested in his services, while the Queensland State of Origin team could be an option, if Kevin Walters is appointed Cowboys coach. 

Payten appears the leading contender for the job. 

Since taking over, he has a 2-5 record, but deserves the benefit of the doubt, given the players is available to him and the circumstances he has inheritted.

He is also saying all the right things, which is pleasing for any fan.

While you can't judge a coach on what he says, it's been refreshing that he's put the team on notice and hasn't been afraid to publicly call players out. 

Before his first game, he questioned the Warriors' toughness and a few weeks later, he blasted the team for playing their "worst performance of the season" against the Sharks. 

Warriors players during their loss to the Cronulla Sharks.
Warriors players during their loss to the Cronulla Sharks. Photo credit: Photosport

A week later, against Sydney Roosters, many were pleased with the Warriors' fighting spirit, but Payten insisted that was the "minimum requirement" and they shouldn't be happy with "pushing the two-time defending premiers". 

Considering everything, there have definitely been improvements under Payten. 

The selection panel hasn't disclosed exactly what they're after, so it is unclear whether they prefer an inexperienced coach like Payten or somebody who has been there, done that like Green or Griffin. 

Hopefully, captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck gets some input into the decision, but with the players' support, Payten seems destined to stay in the role. 

If the selection panel decides he is the person they want, they should recruit an experienced assistant to sit alongside him. No disrespect to Tony Iro or Justin Morgan, but that could have huge benefits, not only for Payten, but the Warriors. 

For example, John Cartwright, with nearly 200 games of coaching experience, is Das Hasler's right-hand man at the Sea Eagles, Paul McGregor has championship winner Shane Flannagan at St George, while Trent Barrett is assistant at Penrith, David Furner with Newcastle Knights and, to a lesser extent, Andrew McFadden at Canberra Raiders.

Payten has my backing.

Last weekend's spirited performance against the Roosters was backed with a gutsy win over the Tigers. They may not have won both, but playing decent football in back-to-back games is an improvement over what we've seen since 2019. 

With plenty still up for grabs in 2021 and a full pre-season under his belt, Payten could really could do wonders, if he's offered the job. 

Once they get the coach sorted, player recruitment can get underway. Warriors fans wouldn't say no to Jack Hetherington joining the club on a permanent basis - or even Brandon Smith! 

Ben Francis is Newshub online sports producer