Parramatta Eels powerbrokers have opened negotiations to extend the contract of coach Stephen Kearney.
While talks are in their embryonic stages, it’s understood that an extension of up to three years – a tenure that would keep the New Zealand mentor at the Eels until the end of 2016 – has been discussed.
The Sun-Herald can reveal that Eels chief executive Paul Osborne approached the board – which was unanimously re-elected at last month’s League’s club elections – with the proposal to tie up Kearney long term. The directors, wanting to create stability at a club that has parted company early with its past three coaches – Brian Smith, Michael Hagan and Daniel Anderson – gave Osborne the green light to proceed.
In his first season as a head coach, Kearney has overseen a Parramatta side that has clocked up just four wins, one draw and eight losses to sit 12th on the ladder coming into round 16. However, performances have improved over the past month and the club is unlucky to have escaped with a draw and a loss in matches against premiership heavyweights St George Illawarra and Manly.
While results so far have been modest, Eels officials have been impressed with the way Kearney is building for the future. They have pointed to his establishment of an academy to identify, educate and retain junior talent; his ability to attract players such as Chris Sandow; his apprenticeship under Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett; and his success with the Kiwis’ outfit. Officials also noted that Kearney was keenly sought by several clubs before agreeing to join Parramatta.
In a profession that offers little job security, an extended deal is a huge show of faith in a man in his rookie season as an NRL head coach. Last week Matthew Elliott was sacked despite being contracted until the end of the season, while Bulldogs counterpart Kevin Moore also needs improved results to see out the remaining 18 months of his contract. Few coaches have the security of extended deals, with Titans coach John Cartwright and Newcastle-bound Bennett – both signed until the end of 2016 – the exception, not the norm.
However, there will be some changes to the Eels’ coaching staff next season. Long-serving physical performance co-ordinator Hayden Knowles will step down from his role to concentrate on his business interests. Knowles, who brought Usain Bolt to Australia last year through his company Competitive Edge, also trains high-profile athletes including Danny Green, Dani Samuels and Fabrice Lapierre.
While Osborne wouldn’t comment on negotiations with Kearney, he said of Knowles: ”His contribution to the club has been enormous and it will be a sad day for everybody when he finishes up. Hayden is well regarded.”