Vodafone Warriors managing director Jim Doyle last night confirmed long-serving Kiwi coach Stephen Kearney is returning to the club as its new head coach on a three-year deal.
The appointment headlines a major revamp of the club’s NRL coaching staff which sees current head coach Andrew McFadden remain as one of Kearney’s assistants, Vodafone Warriors legend Stacey Jones promoted to add further depth in a new role and another experienced international coach set to be signed to join the coaching team.
Kearney (44) will finish his assistant coach’s job with the Brisbane Broncos when their 2016 campaign ends to rejoin the club he made 79 appearances for as a foundation player from 1995-1998.
McFadden has had 67 matches in charge since 2014 while Jones will step up from his current role as Intrust Super Premiership coach to provide additional support to the NRL squad in specific specialised areas.
Current assistant coaches Andrew Webster and Justin Morgan are finishing up with the Vodafone Warriors.
“We’re delighted we’ve been able to bring Stephen back to Mount Smart Stadium,” he said.
“He was outstanding during his playing career with the club and then with the Melbourne Storm before moving into coaching.
“Stephen has taken the Kiwis to a new level with their successes in the Rugby League World Cup in 2008 and twice in the Four Nations in 2010 and 2014.
“During his coaching career he has also worked alongside two of the best coaches the game has seen in Craig Bellamy at the Storm and Wayne Bennett at the Broncos.
“Our review identified changes needed to be made and, in Stephen, we have a coach who has a reputation for demanding the highest standards.”
Kearney is now helping to prepare the Broncos for their sudden-death NRL playoff against the North Queensland Cowboys this weekend but said he was looking forward to returning to Auckland.
“While I’ve got a job to do here I’m really excited about coming on board at the Vodafone Warriors,” he said from Brisbane last night.
“The club means a lot to me from my time there as a player and this a great opportunity to take the football department in a new direction.
“I’ve been speaking to Cappy about his role and I’m thrilled he’s staying on. He has so much to offer with his knowledge about the club and I’m really looking forward to working with him.
“It’ll also be great to have Stacey involved to a greater degree with the NRL squad so we can really maximise the expertise he provides.”
In nine seasons as Kiwi coach, Kearney has led the national side to unprecedented success. As well as winning the World Cup for the first time in 2008 followed by the Four Nations victories in 2010 and 2014, Kearney guided the Kiwis to a breakthrough Anzac Test win last year to complete a run of three consecutive wins over the Kangaroos.
Apart from assistant coach roles with Melbourne (2006-2010) and Brisbane (2013-2016), he was head coach with Parramatta in 2011-2012. He’s the second former Vodafone Warrior to become head coach following Ivan Cleary (2006-2011).
While Doyle confirmed the coaching changes, Vodafone Warriors owner Eric Watson has endorsed Kearney’s appointment.
“I’m thrilled the Vodafone Warriors have secured a coach of Stephen’s calibre as well as building a coaching team of the type and quality we’ve never seen before,” he said.
“Stephen brings so much experience to the club and has the added advantage of knowing so many of the country’s best players through his long association with the Kiwis.”
Watson also announced a new initiative with the formation of a football advisory board to oversee the club’s football operations.
Among the members are former Rugby World Cup-winning All Black coach Sir Graham Henry, experienced NFL coach Eric Mangini, club great Awen Guttenbeil and director Owen Eastwood.
Watson said the advisory board filled a void which had existed in the club’s board structure for many years.
As well as Watson, Henry, Mangini, Guttenbeil and Eastwood the other members of the new Football Advisory Board are Doyle and board director Les Archer.
Watson said he and Doyle had been discussing the concept of a football advisory board for some time.
“We were well aware that our board has been made up of directors who all bring strong commercial expertise to the table,” he said.
“However, we have been lacking sporting knowledge so we have moved to improve that with the formation of this Football Advisory Board.
“We met recently and will meet monthly covering all football responsibilities.
“The full board will continue to be responsible for the governance and commercial areas of the business.
“As well has having directors on the advisory board, we’re especially thrilled to have the services of Sir Graham, Eric, Awen and Owen. They provide exceptional knowledge and experience from the professional sporting world as we strive to improve our standards throughout the club.
“I’m really excited about what we’re creating for the Vodafone Warriors, giving the senior players better coaching support than they’ve had before.
“The formation of the advisory board together with Stephen’s appointment and the other coaching roles are all part of a comprehensive overhaul of how we do business.”
Sir Graham (70) coached Auckland, the Blues, Wales and the British and Irish Lions before serving as All Black coach from 2004-2011, ending his term with victory in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final at Eden Park. He has since worked as a consultant.
Mangini (45) has been involved in NFL coaching roles since 1995. He was head coach of the New York Jets from 2006-2008 and the Cleveland Browns in 2009-2010. He has also worked with the Baltimore Ravens, the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers (when NRL star Jarryd Hayne was on the roster). He was a guest at the Vodafone Warriors this season when he took in the club’s 26-10 win over St George Illawarra on May 1.
Guttenbeil (40) became Vodafone Warrior No 33 when he made his first-grade debut in 1996. He overcame multiple injury setbacks to make 170 NRL appearances for the club from 1996-2006 before finishing his playing career with Castleford in the English Super League in 2007-2008. He also played 10 Tests for the Kiwis between 2002-2005 and represented Mate Ma’a Tonga at the 1995 and 2008 Rugby League World Cups.
Southland-raised Eastwood also brings a strong sporting background to the board. He is a consultant to teams and organisations on developing high performance team culture. He has been associated with the All Blacks through sponsor adidas, the Chelsea Football Club, the South African cricket team and the military command group of NATO.
He has also been retained by the City Football Group (working with Manchester City, New York City and Melbourne City), the Scotland rugby union team, the executive committee of Investec and the Football Association (working with the England national football teams).