All about Steve: The coach you couldn’t help but like
Stephen Kearney is one of the NRL's under pressure coaches (AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy)
Following this Saturday’s game against Melbourne, Parramatta coach Stephen Kearney will hand in the keys to the Blue and Gold mobile and take one last look at the Ray Price statue before leaving the NRL as nothing but a coaching fraud, charlatan and ….oh God, I just can’t do it!
No matter how much I know I should, I cannot bring myself to hate Stephen Kearney.
Even after all the insipid Eels performances forcing me to spend time with loved ones on a Saturday night, all the misplaced Ben Roberts confidence and all the press conferences rivalling those of former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf for delusional optimism, I still have a soft spot for the bloke.
I have no particular reason for this, in fact quite the opposite.
Having cried myself to sleep for a week after the ‘99 grand final, even the mention of the Melbourne Storm would send me into a violent rage, and I still have to be physically restrained if I see Glenn Lazarus’ smug chubby melon pop up on the telly.
Kearney for some reason seemed immune to this wrath, his cool demeanour and perceived on-field sportsmanship winning over juvenile bitterness.
Same goes for his coaching of the rag-tag Kiwis outfit to victory in the ‘08 World Cup, a match that the New Zealand team were close to running out for in ‘Washington Generals’ jerseys.
“I bet an NRL club is going to snap him up now,” I remember telling a heavily inebriated Englishman who had hung around just to give the finger to Paul Gallen, as Kearney did his lap of honour with the sheepish look of a bloke who’d just one a nightclub dancing competition walking up to the bar.
And sure enough a club did, with Parra taking the bait for the 2011 season. As far as gambles go it was not quite up there with Nathan Hindmarsh putting 200k through the pokies at Parra Leagues Club. With former fellow Melbourne Storm assistant coach Michael Maguire having just won an ESL title with Wigan, results were expected.
But, like Harold Holt wading into the shallows at Kurnell or an Andrew Johns live cross, they never came. As a Kearney fan, in 2011 I looked on worriedly, feeling every bit like the school teacher reading the poor quality work of an affable, yet entirely chowder brained student.
By the end of 2011 things were grimmer than the Win Stadium hotdogs for my man Steve, and by recruiting a halves pairing of Sandow and Roberts for 2012 things were always probably going to be either rocks or diamonds. Even the most pessimistic of Eels fans though (i.e. members of the ’81 grand final side) didn’t expect the truck load of gravel with extra chunky bits that the duo has to date dumped on Parra’s front patio.
By the time the club called in the token embittered ex-superstar and retired coach for ‘guidance’ (on what exacly? How to drive a bus through Surfers Paradise without getting rolled by Schoolies? How to call line-out plays in Welsh?) it was all but over for Kearney.
Why he didn’t succeed will be the source of speculation for some time to come, or until Furner gets the boot anyway. Was it poor recruitment? Was it factional infighting in the boardroom? Was it friction between players?
Or, could it be that Stephen Kearney: rugby league international, premiership winner, World Cup winner, sharp dresser and all round nice guy to boot, just wasn’t that great a head coach?
No, no, I don’t think it could possibly be that. Where’s that awful Denis Fitzgerald chap when you need a scapegoat?
Play it again Stephen!
Follow Chris on Twitter: @Vic_Arious
Chris Chard is a sports humour writer commenting on the often absurd nature of professional sport. A rugby league fan boy with a good blend of youth and experience taking things one week at a time, Chris has written for The Roar since 2011. Tweet him @Vic_Arious