Warriors coach Stephen Kearney has been dumped with two years remaining on his contract with assistant coach Todd Payten to take charge of the club in an interim capacity.
Kearney was informed of the decision by CEO Cameron George over the phone on Saturday morning as George has not travelled to Australia with the side, while players and staff were told by Kearney himself while in camp in Terrigal on Saturday afternoon.
The Warriors suffered a resounding 40-12 loss to the Rabbitohs on Friday night, continuing a difficult run for the side after relocating to the Central Coast amid the COVID-19 pandemic that prevents them from playing in New Zealand.
Kearney had entered 2020 with external pressure mounting around his future, but his axing comes as a surprise given he signed a three-year extension last year and has had to weather the unique circumstances of the Warriors' 2020 season.
That new deal came on the back of a 2018 finals finish, the club's first since 2011, but was followed by a 13th place last year and a 2-4 start to this season.
None of this pops up overnight. We as a club, we constantly review, evaluate and understand where we're going in the futureCameron George
"These decisions are never easy and the times are always difficult to make, however we believe, the owners and myself, that after long considerations, and discussions, that this was the right thing for the club to do moving forward," George said.
"It was certainly made harder by the fact that I couldn't sit down with Stephen in person. But he's been really professional through the discussions and I can't speak highly enough of him.
"None of this pops up overnight. We as a club, we constantly review, evaluate and understand where we're going in the future and understand what's been happening in the past.
"We have had a challenging year on and off the field, but that's off the back of a challenging year last year as well. It's a compounding effect.
"We need to make decisions in the best interest of the club moving forward. It's certainly a decision we don't make overnight."
George said he and club owner Mark Robinson had not consulted with any Warriors players on the decision or Kearney's relationship with his squad, wary of undermining the coach while he was still in charge.
But the Warriors CEO said he believed Kearney still retained the support of his players.
"Stephen has got a great relationship with the players," George said.
"I've never seen anything from my observations or haven't had any players come to me and speak to me about any breakdown in relationship."
Kearney leaves the Warriors post with a 42% win rate from 77 games. It is the second time he has been sacked by a club after finishing his first head coaching role at Parramatta in 2012.
Payten will take charge of the side in an interim role as the club begins its search for a replacement coach, starting with a daunting Friday night trip to Melbourne.
George said the club had not yet drawn up a shortlist of candidates for the role, though the likes of Nathan Brown, Anthony Griffin, Geoff Toovey and Trent Barrett are free agents boasting NRL experience, while current assistant coaches Craig Fitzgibbon (Roosters) and Jason Ryles (Melbourne) are rated as NRL coaches of the future.