6 Aug 2020

Warriors lacking leadership - Bidwell

10:29 am on 6 August 2020

Opinion - People's worst fears about the New Zealand Warriors are being realised.

Warriors CEO Cameron George.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Stephen Kearney has not been, nor does he ever appear likely to be, an elite-level NRL head coach. For the Warriors to sack him so soon after the resumption of this season was strange, but hardly indefensible provided the club had a better coaching option lined up.

Let's go back a couple of years to when the club told star halfback Shaun Johnson he was free to seek a deal elsewhere.

Johnson is not without ability, but a point came in his time at the Warriors where those running the club felt they were better off without him. Again, as with the Kearney thing, that's fine.

What's not fine, though, is when you release your best-paid and most-talented player and fail to replace him.

Warriors chief executive Cameron George talks a good game, while club owner Mark Robinson is remarkably opinionated for someone so new to the NRL. And it's all very well to present blunt appraisals of players, or to send people packing, but the words all look a bit hollow when better people aren't signed in their place.

Kearney's former assistant Todd Payten has been coaching the team since June and revealed this week that he'd declined the club's offer to assume the role fulltime.

The Warriors need a proven NRL performer. A man whose methods are established and effective and who has an ability to improve a club's existing players and attract elite ones in.

I wrote that when Kearney was sacked and it's as true now as it was then.

Instead the Warriors sought to contract a rookie. To sign Payten, whose head-coaching experience is limited to the past few weeks.

Payten appears reasonably competent, but let's not pretend he's just arrived. He's been with the Warriors since 2018 and not as the waterboy either.

Warriors coach Todd Payten

Warriors interim coach Todd Payten has turned down the job fulltime. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

NRL head coaches do a lot of things, but actual hands-on coaching is often well down the list. That job is generally delegated to the club's trainers and assistant coaches.

It's nice to pretend Payten has just begun working with the players. To act like he's this straight-talking, no-nonsense breath of fresh air who's demanding greater accountability from the team.

The reality is he's been there two years already and the Warriors are no different now to when he first arrived.

Payten has a theory on why that is, which he shared during a live television interview on Monday night. The Warriors, he said, lack real football nous and won't improve until they learn to make better decisions or bring in players with better decision-making ability.

Imagine our collective surprise when it was announced the very next day that Blake Green - the only Warrior with any demonstrable football nous - was leaving the club with immediate effect. Green will play for Newcastle, having started looking for a deal after Robinson said the Warriors were not interested in retaining his services.

You couldn't make this stuff up.

Warriors player Blake Green.

Blake Green won't appear in a Warriors jersey again after being released by the club to join the Newcastle Knights. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Someone will be head coach of the Warriors next year. Just as someone (at this stage Kodi Nikorima and Chanel Harris-Tavita) will occupy the 6 and 7 jumpers Johnson and Green once wore.

But the coach, who'll be taking a leap of faith to join such a poorly run club, will know the untried and untested Todd Payten was actually first-choice, just as we'll all know Nikorima and Harris-Tavita aren't up to it.

Recruitment isn't rocket science. You want to attract the best people you can, for the best price you can, and then try to maximise their potential.

Not every appointment will be a success and that's okay. Just make sure that, before you let that person go, you have someone better ready to replace them.

That's the problem here. If you felt the Warriors were working to a plan, and that their decisions were considered, then you'd happily applaud them.

Get rid of Johnson and Kearney and Green if you want. Publicly belittle someone like senior forward Adam Blair if you must, but be prepared for what has to happen next.

Unfortunately the Warriors are a club making things up as they go along and never was that more evident than in their unsuccessful attempt to sign Todd Payten.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs

We have regular online commentary of local and international sport.