Warriors players and staff were distraught after learning of the abrupt end to Stephen Kearney’s tenure and interim coach Todd Payten won’t rule out the possibility that some may want to return home to New Zealand.
After receiving a phone call from Warriors CEO Cameron George at 9.30am on Saturday to advise Kearney’s contract had been terminated and the club wanted him to take over in a caretaker role, Payten likened the mood in the team camp to a "death in the family".
He said the players were "rattled" when Kearney told them of the decision and assistant coaches Stacey Jones and Tony Iro were also visibly upset.
Payten was shocked and said it may be the team’s greatest challenge yet since the players relocated to Australia on May 3 without their families to ensure the NRL could restart with 16 clubs.
"This team has been faced with quite a few challenges and I think that they have handled it pretty well for the most part," Payten said.
'Like a death in the family': Warriors players react to Kearney exit
"The performance on Friday [against South Sydney] wasn’t great but given the fact that we have been away from home now for nearly nine weeks, there are layers of different challenges and this one is a big challenge and a big moment that we are going to have to process before we get moving forward.
"It doesn’t help the situation at the moment but it is what it is and as cold as it is we have to move forward."
Payten will meet with the leadership group on Sunday before addressing the entire squad.
He conceded some players might want to leave the camp and return home.
"Some may. Yesterday was an emotionally charged day," Payten said.
"When we told the players there was some very upset individuals. Steve was quite upset as were many of us so it was a tough few hours.
"He is very well respected and loved by the players so they are upset. It hit them pretty hard in the face.
"It’s almost like we have had a death in the family. It was a really strange atmosphere yesterday."
Payten said he had ambitions to be a full-time head coach but wasn’t sure yet whether he would put his hand up to replace Kearney on a permanent basis.
"I haven’t given it any thought at all," he said.
Why the Warriors moved on Stephen Kearney
"When I spoke to Cameron yesterday he said that they will open it up and find the best candidate. I think this club deserves to have the best coach available.
"I do have an ambition to be a head coach one day and this will be a good test for me but we have got some challenges here at the moment."
The former Canberra, Sydney Roosters and Wests Tigers prop said he would be relying heavily on Jones and Iro to help prepare for his first game in charge against Melbourne at AAMI Park on Friday night.
"They will be very important. I know that they were very, very upset yesterday and one of the things that I really enjoyed about working in this group is that they are friends and the trust among one another.
"They were really distraught yesterday about what had happened and I will leaning on them to help get us out of what we’re in."
Former St George Illawarra and Newcastle coach Nathan Brown is among the names mentioned as a possible replacement for Kearney and he has been working with the Warriors during the pre-season.
"He has come across three times I think and his role is to focus on the hookers," Payten said.
"We have asked him to throw any ideas at us that he sees around the places in terms of training set-up, game style and all that sort of stuff.
"He just throws ideas at us when he can and we take them on board and act on them if we feel they need acting upon. He has been a good foil for us to lean on at certain times, get a different set of eyes on our game and he has had a small part in what we have been able to do."
Since the Telstra Premiership resumed on May 28, the Warriors have shut out St George Illawarra 18-0 in a near-perfect performance with the ball, slumped to a 26-0 loss to Penrith and beaten North Queensland 37-26 before last Friday night’s 40-12 defeat by Souths.
"I just assume it was just about the performance on Friday," Payten said of Kearney’s removal from the post.
"It was out of the blue, surprising, shocking and I can only put it down to the performance on the weekend, particularly the defensive performance."