Warriors coach Todd Payten reveals how close the club came to quitting

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 6 Sep 2020, 2:39PM
Todd Payten interim coach during a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Central Coast Stadium on June 24, 2020 in Gosford. Photo / Getty Images.
Todd Payten interim coach during a New Zealand Warriors NRL training session at Central Coast Stadium on June 24, 2020 in Gosford. Photo / Getty Images.

Warriors coach Todd Payten reveals how close the club came to quitting

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 6 Sep 2020, 2:39PM

Warriors coach Todd Payten has broken his silence on the moments he feared his squad was about to quit the NRL mid-season.

The Warriors have produced an amazing run of form, winning four of their last five games, to put them within sight of the impossible dream - a spot in the NRL playoffs.

Interim coach Payten - who will take over the Cowboys next year - said things hit rock bottom when the Warriors were smashed 50 - 6 by Melbourne, days after he had replaced the sacked Steve Kearney.

Payten had addressed his distressed squad, which has been forced to camp in Australia because of Covid-19, and then sat in his Terrigal hotel room, "dreading a knock on his door" as the Telegraph put it.

"At the very beginning, I gave everyone an opportunity to go home right after Steve was sacked," he revealed as the Warriors prepared to play the Eels.

"I stressed to the lads if anyone wants to go home I understand it, but you have until 6pm to come and see me in my room.

"If that's what you want to do I won't hold it against you but for everyone else that doesn't see me, I want you to know that I expect you to turn up every day with the right attitude to get the job done.

"I was a little bit nervous. I got the first tap on the door about 10 minutes after six."

Prop Leivaha Pulu entered to inform Payten that his pregnant wife had been in a car accident and he needed to race home. Then came outstanding wings Ken Maumalo and David Fusitu'a, plus forwards Agnatius Paasi and King Vuniyayawa, who also gave their reasons for wanting to return to Auckland.

Payten said: "They came as a group and said they were struggling."

At that point, Payten wondered if the campaign would disintegrate, if his squad was ready to exit en masse.

"I had moments of it," he said.

"I tried not to spend too much energy on it and I always spoke to the coaches about how we can get better and how we can lift the spirits.

"But I did have a couple of nervous moments. We never gave it much legs to grow."

Payten said the treatment of Kearney had created angst and made him wonder if he should even accept being elevated from assistant to head coach.

"When I first got the phone call I was uncertain…if I didn't work out well I thought my reputation would take a hit," he said.

"They wanted an answer quickly. I felt like I had an obligation to the group and the club to lead us out of what was happening."

After the game, players unloaded their anger saying they had felt "let down".

"(but) they realised they were fortunate to keep playing footy and wanted to do the right thing by their family and fans back home," Payten said.

He said the squad had bonded through adversity, and the reduced travel schedule had help them prepare better for games.

Payten said he had given players more time off than usual, and coached by "feel".