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Uncertainty over Warriors future impacting on coaching appointment

The Warriors want to know whether the team will be based in New Zealand or Australia next season before appointing a new coach after Todd Payten rejected the job due to uncertainty over border closures.

Payten, who was promoted from assistant coach after Stephen Kearney’s sacking on June 20, was offered the job on a permanent basis last week but turned it down because of concerns that his wife may not be able to travel between the two countries to visit her ill father in Australia.

He is now pursuing the vacant North Queensland job, while the Warriors try to determine how COVID-19 restrictions will impact on their mid-term future before the club can finalise decisions around coaching and player recruitment for next season.

Warriors CEO Cameron George said he had not spoken with South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett and has been told that other high-profile coaches linked to the job, Paul Green and Nathan Brown, have had no contact with the Auckland-based club.

“I think the thing that is missing with this coaching process that we all need to be very clear and aware of is that as I sit here right now – and people are asking why it’s taking so long – the reality is that with the situation we are in we can’t even get people into this country,” George said.

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“We are even struggling to get all of our players back due to restrictions and so forth so under those circumstances there shouldn’t be any rush.

"First and foremost, we want to get the right outcome but secondly I don’t know what the next six months is going to look like.

“I don’t know whether this club is going to be based out of Australia next year or based back in New Zealand. They are all major factors to employing people. They are all major factors to people considering whether they want to work for this club at this point in time.

“There are so many balls in the air so we have to take our time and we have to understand what our immediate and mid-term future looks like going into next year. On the back of that we will make the appropriate appointments in terms of coaching and other staff and player recruitment.”

Despite the Warriors first-choice coaching option turning down the job, George ruled out going back to former Manly mentor Geoff Toovey or the Walker brothers, Ben and Shane, after advising them last week that they had missed out.

“We are in no hurry due to the reasons I have just set out,” George said. “A lot can change in the short term.

“It is very stressful for the club, it’s very stressful for the players, it’s very stressful for the staff. Our focus right now is ensuring the players and staff in Australia are supported and well looked after. Their well-being is critical.

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“We back here in New Zealand will continue to work slowly, methodically and thoroughly through a process that hopefully gets us the best outcome when we understand what our border issues are going to look like in the next three-to-six months.

“We are very comfortable with where we are at with the opportunities we have got in front us and the options we have got so we will just continue to work through it and at the appropriate time, as things become clearer as to what our immediate and mid-term future look like, we will unravel our plan.”

Payten advised the Warriors players at their Central Coast base on Monday that he had been offered the job full-time but decided not to take up the opportunity.

Speaking on NRL 360 on Fox Sports on Monday night, the former Cowboys and Wests Tigers assistant coach said he had an interview recently and was offered the job last week.

Payten is keen to get the North Queensland coaching position which became vacant after Green and the club parted ways last month.

"I told the club that I'm going to turn it down, it just wasn't the right opportunity for my family and myself at this time," he said.

"It was not an easy decision, something I agonised over for a few days but in the end it was the first time I put my family first in a decision. It just wasn't the right time."

The likes of Geoff Toovey, Ben and Shane Walker, Anthony Griffin and Green have been touted as potential candidates to replace Stephen Kearney, who was relieved of his post by the Warriors after their round six loss to Souths. understands that Green has not put his hat in the ring for the position.

Payten has guided the team to two wins in their past six matches under difficult circumstances.

The 41-year-old said his wife's father was undergoing treatment for cancer and they were intending to move back to Australia.

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“It’s not an easy decision, something I agonised over for a few days,” he said. “But in the end, it was the first time I put my family first in a decision, it just wasn’t the right timing.

“Not many people know this, but my wife’s father just started chemotherapy, so that was at the forefront of my mind.

“Obviously, there’s the Covid thing. For her to travel back and forth is very difficult, so that was a big part of it.

“There were some other issues I don’t want to make public, but that’s my decision and I’ve made it.

"I’m well aware, it was tough for everyone, the club was shocked and disappointed, but moving forward, my focus is on getting the side prepared as well as we can from week to week.”

Payten said he was still contracted to the Warriors until the end of next season as an assistant and if he were to stay, he would give the head coach his full support.

The former Raiders, Roosters and Tigers forward added that his first preference would be to take up the Cowboys' role if they offered him the gig and confirmed they were aware of his interest.

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The New Zealand Warriors honour the mana of the Indigenous peoples of Aotearoa, Australia and the Pacific. We acknowledge the traditional kaitiaki of the lands, elders past and present, their stories, their traditions, their mamae and their mana motuhake.

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