Warriors NRL coach Stephen Kearney will be returning to New Zealand earlier than anticipated after his shock sacking.
The club made the brutal decision on Saturday despite the team having relocated indefinitely in Gosford due to coronavirus-enforced travel restrictions.
The call comes after the side’s dismal 40-12 loss on Friday night to South Sydney, leaving them with two wins from their opening six games.
The playing group was addressed on Saturday afternoon, with assistant coach Todd Payten taking over immediately as caretaker.
Kearney’s tenure ends after three-end-a-half years in charge, and comes six months into a three-year extension he had signed in February, 2019.
The Warriors won 33 of 79 games in that time, making just one finals appearance, with chief executive Cameron George insisting it wasn’t an overnight decision.
“We obviously have had a bit of a challenging year on and off the field, but that’s on the back of a challenging year last year as well,” George said on Saturday.
“It’s a compounding effect that we, being myself, the CEO, need to make decisions in the best interests of the club moving forward.”
George also defended the timing of the decision, seven weeks after players and staff left families behind to move temporarily to Australia.
It is still unclear when the team can return home.
“It’s very difficult for that reason alone … Yes, man to man, the respect I have for Stephen, I would’ve appreciated more so being in person with him,” George said.
“But under the circumstances that are not ideal for so many people, particularly our club at the moment, it was the only option that we could, to talk about it.”
George, who also said no players were consulted over Kearney’s demise, also refused to let the team’s disposition influence him in making the call.
“Where do you draw a line? We’ve got to look after the club’s best interests moving forward. It’s not ideal timing because of the situation,” he said.
“But that doesn’t negate us and my core principles around decision-making at the club, which is club’s interests first, and the future of the club.”
He said Kearney’s unfruitful four years was plenty of time to yield better results.
“That’s an extensive period of time, no doubt, in anyone’s world,” George said.
“The facts of the matter is, this is a decision for us to get better going forward and we believe it’s the right decision to make.”
Payten’s appointment is his first in the NRL after previously going closest at the Wests Tigers following Michael Potter’s axing in 2014.
The Tigers’ 2005 premiership-winning player also spent time at North Queensland as an assistant, before joining the Warriors last year.
He will lead a list of candidates which is likely to include Nathan Brown, who is a Warriors coaching consultant, Craig Fitzgibbon and Anthony Griffin.
George insisted the owners were comfortable with the size of Kearney’s payout, which will balloon with the salary of a new coach.
“Whilst we never like to have these discussions, we’re very comfortable commercially, which are very confidential,” he said.
“We’re comfortable where we’ve reached a middle ground.”