Kearney’s Eels departure good for Kiwis
Stephen Kearney looked like a relieved man after he announced on Friday he will step down as head coach of the Parramatta Eels.
The former Kiwis skipper, who played 45 Tests and more than 200 NRL games, admitted the pressure of coaching the Eels had strained his personal life and it was a relief to move on.
Kearney had been assistant coach for two years with the Melbourne Storm when he took on the Kiwis head coach role in 2008. His history was enough on paper to suggest the time was right to take on an NRL head coaching role in 2011.
His time at Parramatta didn’t work out for various reasons. Kearney is the fifth coach in six years there and the Eels probably need a veteran coach to lead them forward.
He now has an ideal opportunity to focus on New Zealand’s chances next year of defending the World Cup they won under him in 2008. I did a radio interview with Kearney in 2009 and discussed his coaching philosophy and what he wants to achieve as a coach. He was very down to earth in his replies, gave articulate and thoughtful answers, and above all else spoke with great passion about the history of the Kiwis and how proud he was to coach the national side.
The Kiwis play, on average, four Tests a year. On the face of it, it seems a part-time role. Yet during our chat, Kearney spoke about how the role is “all-year round” and is a different challenge. Kearney will also have access to the best New Zealand has to offer and has a short campaign to focus on, rather than the weekly and unrelenting grind of an NRL head coaching role. He can also put energies into building up the Kiwis talent pool and connecting with veteran coaches.
Former All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry and current Wallabies coach Robbie Deans put all their energy into their national coaching commitments. Likewise current State of Origin coaches Mal Meninga and Ricky Stuart. They are examples where doing one role can have success.
The New Zealand rugby league might have Kearney play a development role in conjunction with his head coaching commitments, which would keep him feeling connected to the game. It is understood he will move to Auckland and be in the role full-time.
Come November next year, Kearney may laud this week’s events as integral to having the Kiwis repeat their 2008 heroics. New Zealand rugby league fans should feel excited about these turns of events.