Interim coach Todd Payten can’t rule out the prospect that some Warriors players will quit the NRL season in anger after the sacking of Stephen Kearney.
Payten compared the impact of Kearney’s shock dismissal as head coach to a death in the family and described the scenes as “eerie” at the club’s Terrigal accommodation.
Kearney’s sacking on Saturday, six games into a renewed three-year contract, has attracted heated criticism in New Zealand from many quarters because of its ruthless nature after the team’s sacrifice to quarantine in Australia away from loved ones.
Former forward Sione Faumuina slammed owner Mark Robinson in a long social media video post, for his move to axe a man admired inside team walls.
“It’s selfish, it lacks empathy… the worst decisions I’ve ever seen made in the NRL,” Faumuina said.
“If I was playing and this happened, I’d want to come home now.”
Payten said emotions were high when the players and coaching staff were addressed on Saturday afternoon by an overwhelmed Kearney.
And Payton said he couldn’t rule out some players considering pulling out of the 2020 campaign, such was the depth of feeling.
“Some may,” he said.
“Yesterday it was an emotionally-charged day.
“Stephen’s very well respected and loved by the players.
“I don’t know how they feel from an anger situation.
“It hit them pretty hard in the face.
“I really feel for Steve.
“I know the playing group are rattled and are still processing at the moment.”
Payten insisted nobody saw the announcement coming, including Kearney, with the head coach seemingly in good spirits when joined on Friday by his wife Piri.
Chief executive Cameron George informed the coaching staff of Kearney’s axing on Saturday morning and, when subsequent team meetings were cancelled, the players began to sense something was amiss, Payten said.
“It was eerie, it’s been a difficult and strange 24 hours,” he said.
“It’s almost like we’ve had a death in the family. It’s a really strange atmosphere.”
Payten said he had given little thought to his coaching requirements before Friday’s match against Melbourne.
He would address the leadership group for the first time later on Sunday, followed by the entire squad.
Kearney was expected to depart Terrigal for his home in Brisbane on Sunday.
Peyton said the only positive was that the former Kiwis great would get to spend time with his wife and two daughters, with the family having effectively lived apart for the best part of four years because of his job commitments.
“I suspect that he’ll be diving into his family for the next little period,” Payton said.