Kearney key to realising Warriors' potential
They have qualified for the NRL Grand Final just twice in 22 years and are currently stuck in a post-season wilderness that has stretched into its fifth year but Warriors legend Sione Faumuina believes new coach Stephen Kearney will finally help to realise the club's enormous potential.
An aggressive recruitment drive that netted Issac Luke and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck made the Warriors one of the premiership favourites when season 2016 kicked off in March yet after a customary mid-season resurgence they again spent September on the outside looking in.
Provided it is ratified by the NRL, the signing of Kieran Foran makes the Auckland-based team look even more formidable for 2017 but Faumuina believes the greatest influence will come from Kearney, who stepped down from his role with the New Zealand team in order to link with the Warriors.
In his only previous head coaching role Kearney won just 10 of 42 games in charge at Parramatta but Faumuina believes that Kearney's connection to the club as a foundation player and his experience coaching alongside Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett in recent years puts him in position to lift the Warriors out of their current doldrums.
"There is going to be a lot of pressure on Steve going back there but at the same time he could go down as probably the greatest coach the Warriors have ever had," said Faumuina, who played 88 of his 131 career NRL games for the Warriors.
"I believe he has what it takes to turn that club around. I really believe that.
"I know that he's able to call upon his experience from Craig and Wayne and deliver it in a way that these boys will understand."
Faumuina was a 21-year-old in his first season with the Warriors when the club qualified for their first grand final in 2002, going down to the powerhouse Roosters team 30-8 in the decider after finishing the regular season as minor premiers.
Preliminary finalists the following year, the Warriors have qualified for the finals just four times in the past 13 seasons but Faumuina is adamant that any lack of mental toughness is a developmental issue and not a cultural one.
The knock on the Warriors for the past decade has been that they have an inability to grind out a win against the better teams and Faumuina lays the blame on the lack of resilience that is fostered throughout the junior systems.
"They should have won three premierships by now with the amount of talent they've had but it's a tough one because what people have to realise is that yes, there is talent, but the rugby league system that they come through is very different to the rugby league system that the youngsters come through here in Australia," said Faumuina, who coached the Easts Tigers under-16 team in Queensland Rugby League's Cyril Connell Cup competition this year.
"The one biggest difference is their mental toughness and resilience. A lot of the boys that play in New Zealand and have come through the grassroots level, they haven't really had to try that hard; they just run over the top of everyone.
"Whereas here in Australia with the rep system they've got from under-12s, the carnivals, the Cyril Connell, Mal Meninga, SG Ball, Harold Matts, training twice a day five days a week, it builds a lot of character.
"We don't have that in New Zealand for rugby league, playing second fiddle to rugby union.
"To put it down to culture, that's an excuse. If people say that I believe it's an excuse. It's just the difference in the rugby league systems that a lot of these players have come through."