The Melbourne Storm have confirmed that long-time assistant coach Stephen Kearney is stepping down from the club to return home to Brisbane.

Kearney ends his time in the NRL as a respected player and coach, having played 264 games for Western Suburbs, Auckland and the Storm between 1992 and 2004, starting as a back-rower in the Storm's historic first premiership in 1999.

He served as an assistant under Craig Bellamy twice, in 2006-10 and 2021-22, with the Storm mentor making him captain in 2003. But he was also an NRL first-grade coach, having taken charge of the Warriors from 2017-20, leading them in 79 NRL games after an ill-fated stint at the Parramatta Eels.

He also coached the New Zealand national side between 2008-16, guiding the nation to it's historic World Cup win back in 2008.

“Storm has been a big part of my life and the life of my family for over 20 years,” Kearney said in a statement.

“I cannot thank them enough for the opportunities they've given me to develop as a player, coach and person. Storm will always hold a special place in my heart and I leave with some great memories and lifelong friends.”

Storm manager of football Frank Ponissi lauded Kearney's influence on the club and the team.

“There aren't too many people who've had as much impact on our club as ‘Mooks'. He's passionate about the club and has been an outstanding mentor for the players and football staff. Whilst he's been an outstanding coach, he's also a wonderful person around our club and will be sorely missed.”

Kearney will officially end his time in Melbourne and the end of November. The move also comes amid the annual speculation about Craig Bellamy's future, with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting that 2023 is a strong contender to be the master mentor's last in the role.

"“Craig has maintained for a while now next year will be his last, and even though we're now out of season, and things have calmed down, I get the impression this time it will be very hard to sway him back," Storm chairman Matt Tripp told the SMH.

"I don't think he will change his mind, and I think next year will be Craig's last. I don't think Munster re-signing will have any bearing on his decision.

“I think he's got his mind made up. That might change, and you can never say anything for certain, but that's just a feeling I've got. As soon as I know for sure, Craig will give us a full year's run at it to find his replacement.”