A clause in Kearney’s deal helped the Warriors dodge a million-dollar payout to its axed coach as the club was swamped with more than a dozen applications for the job within 24 hours of his exit.
But his axing and the potential for others will intensify the focus on how clubs handle their own financial affairs, with millions having been spent on paying out coaches across the competition in recent years.
It comes as the NRL, which was accused of years of profligacy itself by broadcaster Nine in April, embarks on a plan to slash costs by as $70 million at head office.
V’landys said he could not comment on the situation with Kearney and the Warriors as he did not know the details but said because of the stress the code was under due to COVID-19 clubs needed to act even more responsibility when it came to their finances.
“Clubs are naturally autonomous and they’ve got to make their own decisions but the game has suffered significant revenue losses because we haven’t had crowds and there are reductions in the broadcast [payments] because we’re providing less product,” he said on Sunday.
“So the clubs have got to make smart decisions and be responsible. They are autonomous and they make those decisions as they see fit. But they have to act for the benefit of the game as a whole. When there are situations like we’re currently in they’ve got to be a little bit more financially responsible.”
Sources familiar with the Kearney’s sacking, meanwhile, told the Herald his severance package won’t top the $1 million mark despite the World Cup-winning coach departing only six games into a three-year deal.
It is expected to ensure the Warriors stay under the NRL’s $5.7 million soft football cap, which includes salaries for head coaches and assistants as well as training camp expenses.
Kearney’s deal was only announced in February last year – just months after he led the club to their first finals appearance in seven years – but prevented the Warriors paying out the full balance of his salary should he be sacked in either the first or second years of the contract.
Representatives from the Warriors’ sole owners, New Zealand manufacturing business Autex Industries, had decided they wanted to replace Kearney and allow enough time to plan for the 2021 season.
The new coach is expected to start planning alongside Warriors recruitment manager Peter O’Sullivan once appointed, with the club not putting a deadline on when the process will be finalised.
Interim coach Todd Payten is expected to lead the club for the rest of the season but on Sunday was still coming to terms with Kearney’s exit. It came less than 24 hours after Kearney’s wife Piri was finally allowed to join her husband at the club’s Central Coast base.
“I was really shocked,” Payten said. “I really feel for Steve. I know the playing group is really rattled and still processing it at the moment.
“It’s been a weird 24 hours … it’s almost like we’ve had a death in the family. It was a really strange atmosphere [on Saturday]. It was out of the blue, very surprising, shocking. I can only put it down to the performance on the weekend, particularly our defensive performance.”
Kearney’s fate was sealed after the Warriors were beaten 40-12 by the Rabbitohs on Friday night.
Chris Barrett is Chief Sports Reporter of The Sydney Morning Herald.
Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.