NZ Warriors chief executive Cameron George admits firing popular coach Stephen Kearney was harsh, but necessary to turn around the club's fortunes during COVID-19.
Midway through his fourth season with the Auckland-based NRL club and faced with overrwhelming obstacles during the coronavirus pandemic, the Kiwi rugby league legend was dumped from the top job in June and replaced by assistant Todd Payten.
But what loomed as a potential train-wreck campaign, teetering at two wins/four losses, eventually transformed into an inspirational effort that took the Warriors to the brink of playoffs.
Payten turned the programme around and landed a head coaching role at North Queensland, incoming coach Nathan Brown has already beefed up his 2021 roster and a sense of optimism now pervades the Mt Smart Stadium headquarters.
George has told The AM Show that Kearney's exit, universally slammed by commentators at the time, was a turning point.
"It demonstrated to everyone in the club that responsibility around performance is owned by the individual," he says.
"We had to make the call and by making the call at that time, whilst on the outside it looked pretty savage - Stephen's a terrific guy - it gave us time to do what we're doing now, which is recruit, develop and get our house in order for next year."
Kearney, a former Kiwis captain and World Cup-winning coach, has since returned to Melbourne Storm as an assistant coach for next season.
George also paid tribute to the Warriors staff who spent four months based in New South Wales and away from family to keep the team's campaign alive.
But the club still faces an uncertain future, with the prospect of being based offshore again next season, after no 'home' games at Mt Smart this year.
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