Kearney a class act to the bitter end at Eels

I WAS once reliably informed that there are two types of first-grade coaches: those who have been sacked and those who are waiting to be.

Last week Stephen Kearney went from the latter to the former.

Not surprisingly, he handled the situation with the dignity and class he has shown throughout his troubled time in charge of the Parramatta Eels.

He revealed that it was not working out and was taking a toll on his family and there is no doubt that was surely the case.

But Kearney has been a dead man walking for a while now with nine wins from 41 games – never enough to cut it in the NRL.

It was also becoming apparent that it was affecting the man himself. Steve appeared to be a physical shadow of his former self.

Maybe he has been combining a strict training regimen with his love for yoga, but he certainly looks to be a skinnier version than he was at the start of the season.

He goes out on a winning note following the Eels’ upset victory over Melbourne, but he has every right to walk away with mixed feelings about what we saw at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night.

The blue and golds produced their most resolute performance of the season, prompting the valid question as to why there hasn’t been similar efforts on a weekly basis over the past year and a half.

I watched the team’s showing against Manly three weeks ago and came to the distasteful conclusion that some players just didn’t have a dig.

When Sea Eagles halfback Daly Cherry-Evans raced away to score his try that afternoon he passed a number of Parramatta players jogging back while the Steve Matai break was still in progress. It included the man who had raced up out of the line and missed the key tackle in the first place.

There were reports in some papers that Steve had “lost the dressing room”.

What, for goodness sake, does that even mean?

If it is that the players aren’t happy then it is more a reflection on them than the man in charge.

It would also be a clear indication that they have lost sight of the fact that players play and coaches coach, and if those lines become blurred then it is time for players to have a good, long, hard look at themselves in the mirror.

I have a feeling that Parramatta is not the only club where the need for such a wake-up call has been recognised.

It is my understanding that new coach Ricky Stuart will be formally signed, sealed and delivered before the end of this week and will become the club’s sixth coach over the past seven years.

He certainly has the credentials to take over the reins at this time after enjoying success at all levels since retiring from a stellar playing career. He is one of a select few coaches to have achieved premiership glory in their first season in the top grade.

That was with the Roosters in 2002, and since then he has been in charge of NSW and Australian campaigns.

Such a profile carries weight when it comes to attracting players to a club, and that would have been a particularly important asset in the eyes of Parramatta when offering him the job.

When a club becomes viewed as an unattractive place to go by players it is a difficult stigma to overcome.

I know that this was the case for the Eels in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the club dropped the ball by not strengthening the playing ranks after their earlier glory days. The only high-profile signing during that time was Bob Lindner, who struggled to find his best football at the club.

Strangely it was the debacle that was Super League that helped resurrect the Eels’ fortunes by opening up the opportunity to sign the Canterbury quartet of Jason Smith, Dean Pay, Jarrod McCracken and Jim Dymock.

If not for their acquisition, the dark days could have continued for much longer.

Ricky seems to have a good eye for young talent and will appreciate the vast junior league at his disposal.

It is a definite frustration for Parramatta fans to see so much of their local talent go on to blossoming careers elsewhere.

In the 40-24 loss to Manly the Eagles had six players who either played with Parramatta or who were a club junior. They included Tony Williams, David Williams, Jorge Taufua and Jamie Buhrer.

I know you can’t keep them all, but the conversion rate at Parramatta over the past decade has not been impressive.

I am surprised the board has apparently given the green light for Stuart to again coach the Origin team if he desires and is allowed by the league hierarchy.

At club level he will be taking over a team that has either picked up their first wooden spoon in 40 years or finished second last two seasons running.

This makes 2013 crucial, and as a Parramatta supporter I would much prefer that the coach did not have any external distractions.

I don’t know Ricky particularly well but he seems to me to be the kind of individual who would struggle to just come in and coach the Blues for the 240 minutes and not have a major involvement in the time-consuming preparations necessary for an Origin campaign.

His hard work has already put the right systems, approach and mentality in place for the likes of a Laurie Daley, Brad Fittler or Trent Barrett to step in and take advantage of.

Eels assistant coach Brad Arthur will be in charge at the club for the remaining six matches, which is reminiscent of Jason Taylor taking over from Brian Smith in 2006, albeit for a shorter period.

With the Eels sitting on the bottom of the ladder and after 10 years in charge, Smith also made the decision to step down.

He said at the time that such a call was needed after he realised that he wasn’t part of the solution, so he must be part of the problem.

The unfortunate difference in this case is that I am sure, despite the lack of success, Steve Kearney knows he is the former and not the latter. I hope he gets another chance to prove so.

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