From The Couch: Round Six by Nick Tedeschi

Warriors Sack Kearney: The New Zealand Warriors sensationally sacked coach Stephen Kearney on Saturday following a heinous loss to South Sydney. Kearney had two seasons remaining on his deal and had endured an almost unprecedented difficulty of leading the Warriors during this global pandemic where the team has been forced to relocate to Australia, separated from their families and countrymen.

Few expected the sacking, the timing of his axing surprising everyone despite the insipid performance against the Rabbitohs on Friday night. The Warriors have won two of four since the season restarted and Kearney, despite a very poor record, was receiving plenty of acclaim for doing a decent job in fairly difficult circumstances.

There is no doubt that sacking a coach in a bubble is about as callous as it gets but the Warriors made a decision they should have a long time ago. Kearney was a poor hiring, a real home-town choice made by the previous management with little consideration payed to record or style. New ownership took the reins and held no loyalty to Kearney. If coronavirus had not of hit, there is no doubt he would have been sacked already.

Everyone is at pains to speak of how good a bloke Stephen Kearney. I have no doubt that is true. The quality of how good a fella one is, though, should have no bearing at all on whether a coach keeps a job. While the narrative may suggest Kearney has been hard done by, he has held a head coaching job a lot longer than he should have.

He finishes at the Warriors – and this will nearly certainly be his final game as an NRL head coach – with a 33-46-1 record at the club. They played finals in his second year. That is something. In six seasons as an NRL coach, his team posted double digit wins just once. His win record of 35.5 per cent is horrific. Ron Hilditch, Tommy Raudonikis and Bob Boland are the only coaches to have coached 100-plus games and have a worse strike rate.

He tried to be Craig Bellamy with his uber-conservative attack and belief in defence but he had neither the cattle nor the nous to implement it and all that came out was a boring and predictable brand of football that achieved very little. A list of where Stephen Kearney teams finished in attack rankings: 15th, 14th, 12th, 10th and 10th. They had been held to 12 or fewer in four of six this year.

Coaching is an ugly business. Results are pretty important. So is fuelling the flames of hope. On both fronts, Kearney failed miserably and a club renowned for making bad decisions stumbled into a good one.

League Loses Its Most Authentic Star: It was both shocking and deeply saddening that news came out last week James Graham would be leaving the NRL immediately. Graham will return to the Super League and St Helens after nearly nine seasons in the NRL. He has been an absolute icon of the game. Early on he brought not only a hard-nosed attitude and thirst for blood but a skill rarely seen in the front row. A deft ball player, attack was built around him as Des Hasler took Canterbury to two grand finals in three years. While his form has tapered a little since moving to the Dragons, he still remains a very good player. As a character he remained as genuine as any in an era of stale and bland and boring. His passion was uncontained. His crooked finger points were iconic and he always said what he genuinely believed. His personality will be sorely missed.

Latrell Mitchell Situation Well Handled: There has been plenty of criticism about “the media’s” handling of the Latrell Mitchell crying situation. Fox NRL have been criticised for showing. Reporters were criticised for asking Wayne Bennett about the incident. The matter was well-handled by all. Rugby league fans have demanded more access. Fox NRL gives them that. The dressing room is no longer a private place. Everyone is aware of that, including Latrell. There is no doubt the matter was personal. There has been little prying after Bennett put the squash on some questions that needed to be asked. Claims that Latrell is being bullied are preposterous. He is an emotional character. He is widely loved and respected. And he is well compensated for not only playing a game that exists in the public spotlight but started the season as one of the faces of the game.

Vale, Noel Kelly: It has been a rough run for legends of the Western Suburbs Magpies. Not long after the passing of Arthur Summons, we have lost the iconic Noel Kelly. Kelly is the greatest Magpies player and was named in the Team Of The Century at hooker, a remarkable achievement. He was the centrepiece of the greatest era in Western Suburbs history. He was a proud Queenslander who was part of a rare Queensland win in the days before Origin. He toured three times with the Kangaroos. He got sent off 17 times. A true character and a wonderful player. His contribution to the game will never be repeated.

2020 Field Goal Update – 8: Mitchell Pearce slotted a field goal just before halftime in the round opener against the Broncos while Nathan Cleary also slotted the match sealer against Melbourne in what also had major ramifications for total bettors.

Fun Fact #1: The Roosters have won two premierships and are the short-priced favourites to make it three in the two-and-a-half seasons since Mitchell Pearce left the club.

Fun Fact #2: Brett Morris has scored at least nine tries against 11 premiership teams: only St George Illawarra (3), Newcastle (4), Penrith (4), Gold Coast (8) and New Zealand (8) fall short.

Fun Fact #3: Stephen Kearney has a perfect record against just one NRL coach: John Cartwright (2 games, 2 wins).

Betting Market of the Week: What James Graham will miss the most about Australia:

$3.50: Meat pies
$4.00: Cold beer
$4.00: The taste of Australian blood
$101.00: The coaching of Paul McGregor

Rumour Mill: Canterbury have been linked to a number of big-name coaches with Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett both mentioned in reports this week. Shaun Wane remains the favourite to get the gig though. Major questions are being asked around betting on the Dally M Medal last year with one former player linked with a prominent betting organisation linked to the controversial trifecta outcome.

Moronic Coaching Decision of the Week: Justin Holbrook’s decision to keep selecting Bryce Cartwright is baffling. Cartwright turned in another heinous performance against the Dragons in what should have been a winnable match.

The Coaching Crosshairs: Paul Green will not be the coach of North Queensland in 2021 and the way the season is going he will not be the coach by July 2020. He is off with the players big time and a third season of underachievement will not be tolerated. He can obviously coach but a bit like Michael Maguire during his final days at Souths, the time has come to move on. Green is shortening to become the head coach of Cronulla next season in what will be a good fit and an upgrade for the Sharks. Wayne Bennett would absolutely go to Townsville if the money was right so that is an opportunity.

Beard Watch: Alex Glenn has used his time on the sidelines to redo his facial to be like a strange magician who would pull a penny out of your mouth or a television hypnotist who would get his kicks on low-rent shows like The Footy Show.

Watch It: For reasons that are not overly clear but something to do with iconic statistician Aaron Wallace perhaps debuting in this game, here is the Knights-Cowboys from 2003 when Newcastle led 48-0 at halftime. The commentary team of – I think – Mark Braybrook and Wally Lewis are pretty entertaining. Watch it here.

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