The following ‘Big Interview’ with John Kear appeared in Rugby League World in 2008. Kear has a great coaching CV, having won two Challenge Cups as a head coach and two more as part of a coaching set-up. As England coach in the 2000 World Cup, he gave debuts to several young players who went on to have excellent Test careers and he famously kept Wakefield Trinity in Super League, joining them as coach with only six games left of the 2006 season.
Doesn’t time fly?
It’s now ten years since John Kear’s Sheffield Eagles recorded a rather surprising 17-8 win over Wigan in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
OK, it was a big surprise and it’s regarded as the biggest of all Challenge Cup surprises.
Then three years ago, as underdog once more, Kear led Hull FC to their first Challenge Cup in 23 years with a last-minute win over reigning Super League champions Leeds in Cardiff.
He’s also been involved in two more Cup triumphs. In 1986, he was on the Castleford coaching staff as they narrowly saw off Hull Kingston Rovers while in 2002, he was the Wigan no.2 when they beat St Helens in what became known as the Kris Radlinski Final.
With a kind draw in the quarter finals of this year’s competition (Kear’s Wakefield play Oldham at home), the former England coach should find himself in another semi-final.
And, don’t forget, if it hadn’t been for Kear, the Wildcats would have been relegated in 2006 with no chance of making the Cup semi-final. The incredible act of escapology, instigated by Kear in the last six games of that season, is rated “up there” with Sheffield’s glorious day in the Wembley sunshine by the man himself.
The fact that Trinity’s survival resulted in relegation for the town of Kear’s birth, Castleford, was little more than an unfortunate footnote. How the Wheldon Road club, whose scoreboard Kear operated as a five-year-old, must have looked on with envy at his record in the Super League era.
“I was born on Wheldon Road and you don’t get into anything else if you’re born in Castleford,” he says. “If you can’t get into Rugby League, you try soccer.
“There was a good schools set-up and a good amateur scene too. I even did the scoreboard at Cas with my brother between the ages of five and 16. Being born so close to the ground and watching them train on a Tuesday and Thursday night as well as playing for my school and Castleford Under-17s, I was bound to be steeped in the game.
“My dad played for Cas. There haven’t been too many father and sons who have played for Cas, like the Marchants and the Sampsons, but I’m proud that my father Herbert and myself are in that category. He was a fullback and played for them in the 1940s.
“I also played union at Cas Grammar and played at college in Leicester but I’d signed for Cas at that point, playing for the second team. I was even a victim of the League-union war with the Leicester rugby union authorities telling the college I couldn’t play when they found out I was also playing for at Cas.
“I studied PE for four years and got a Bachelor of Education Honours degree before moving back up north to teach, while playing part-time for Cas. I’d been playing second team for Cas when I was at college but when I came back to the area I made the first team. My debut was against St Helens and we got a good hiding.
“Malcolm Reilly was the coach throughout my Cas career. There was also the Beardmore twins, John Joyner, Barry Johnson and Tony Marchant so we had a good team.
“I played in a Premiership Final in 1984 as well as a Yorkshire Cup final and two Challenge Cup semi-finals against Hull in 1982 and 1983 which we lost. But I missed the 1985 semi and the replay against Hull with injury.
“Hull had a team of stars in those semi-finals – Knocker Norton, Dave Topliss and the Kiwis. In the 1982 semi, they got off to a great start and went 11-2 or 11-4 up but we came right back at them. We lost 15-11 but if it had gone on much longer, we’d have got them. They had an easier win over us the next year though, controlling the game throughout.
“Losing finals is pretty tough – I was at Wigan when Bradford hammered us in the 2001 Grand Final – but I’d rather lose a final than a semi. It’s heartbreaking because you can virtually smell Wembley only for it to be snatched away.”
In the Premiership final against Hull KR that Kear refers to, he scored his side’s only try, one that was featured on the BBC video 101 Top Rugby League Tries although Cas went down to a John Dorahy-inspired Hull KR.
“For my try, John Joyner and Steve Robinson combined to put me in. John used to look one way and pass the other before it was fashionable and he put Robinson through and I supported him. We got off to a flying start going 10-2 up, but Dorahy really took control. In the end, they beat us well.”
But exactly how good was Kear the player? Did he ever harbour international dreams?
“I wasn’t good enough for that,” he admits. “There were people like Des Drummond on the wing and Garry Schofield and John Joyner coming through in the centres. I had to be realistic. I was a decent player, not an elite player.”
The more Kear talks about his playing days, the more it becomes apparent that he holds Reilly – both as player and coach – in the highest regard.
“Malcolm was awe inspiring. He was an inspirational figure. I know Ellery Hanley has a great reputation for being competitive but I never met anyone as competitive as Malcolm. He’s like the knight off Monty Python who’s lost his arms and legs yet he’s still fighting. If you had a fight with Malcolm, the best you could get was a draw.
“He set standards at training that were phenomenal, even when he was coach. When he came back from Australia, he only had one leg – the other was sellotaped on. His knee would swell up after every game but he turned up and played to such a high standard. He was so mentally tough and had an unbelievable pain threshold. I remember him with a broken cheekbone and it was compressing on the side of his face but they couldn’t get him off. There was no way he was coming off until he’d sorted out one of the opposition.
“He was so inspirational to me. In fact, when we won the Challenge Cup in 1986, I was on the coaching staff and did a dossier on the Hull KR players which is one of the first times something like that had been done and it obviously helped. Malcolm pulled me to one side at the civic reception and told me I could go all the way in coaching. They’re words I’ve always remembered.
“I’d been a student of the game ever since I was a bairn – an anorak you might say! My teaching background helped in that respect and Malcolm and Phil Larder, who was running the coaching scheme then, helped get me into coaching.”
Is it possible to forecast which players will get into coaches?
“I think it is,” says Kear. “Some are extra attentive in meetings and ask very good, searching questions. At Wakefield, I reckon players like Brad Drew and Jason Demetriou will get into it then there’s a younger player like Scott Grix. His knowledge of the game impresses me and he’s having a great education in the game by playing fullback, wing and stand-off.
“To be a top coach, it helps if you’ve suffered a bit of adversity along the way. Brad, Jason and Scott have all had that – they’ve had to answer some pretty tough questions at times.
“I was still playing when I went on to the coaching staff but it’s still a very different job. I was conditioner and assistant with the reserves. Then Dave Sampson moved up to assist the first team and I coached the reserves.
“Back then, I’d be the first to training to set everything up and the last to leave after you’ve packed everything away. You’re a jack of all trades as well as the coach. Now I have a lot of staff, I can think back to then. It wasn’t a bed of roses. It was mud and nettles and a case of rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty.
“You’re no longer one of the lads either. You have to grow out of that and that’s something that Malcolm pointed out to me. He told me there had to be a barrier between coach and players.
“In 1986, I prepared that dossier on Hull KR. They had been so successful and therefore they had a massive backlog of games so I watched seven or eight of their games between the semi-final and the final. I felt I knew them very well and prepared a detailed opposition dossier which Malcolm really appreciated like the fact George Fairbairn was a right-footed kicker and where you could stand to pressure him, the marker system they employed and how we could break it down. I also knew we could work Gavin Miller over because he was carrying an injury.
“We knew we had a great chance and people can remember the tries from Jamie Sandy and Tony Marchant as well as Bob Beardmore’s drop-goal which proved to be vital.”
In the early 90s, Kear worked for the RFL in a coaching capacity.
“I worked for the RFL as Phil Larder’s assistant on the coaching scheme and when Phil left to coach Widnes, I became the director of coaching and the Academy executive,” Kear remembered. “That involved updating the coaching scheme although Phil had already done a great job with it. But I was very excited about the Academy and it’s a system I feel very proud of because it’s an area that’s improved a lot over the years.
“Then I was seconded out to Paris by Maurice Lindsay. Michel Mazare was the head coach of PSG and had asked Maurice if there was some help available. I thought it was a practical way to get some experience at the elite level and I really enjoyed it. I went in as head coach and kept them up thanks to a home win over London on Bastille Day.
“The whole thing was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I made some great friends over there and I’ve still got them.
“The club was probably put in the wrong area though. We were training in Toulouse and flying up to Paris to play our home games. The demands on the players were phenomenal.”
Eagles Flying High
Kear’s next club was Sheffield Eagles. Originally employed to assist Larder, Kear soon moved into the head coaching position when the ex-Great Britain coach was sacked.
“I moved to Sheffield the following season after going on the Academy Tour to New Zealand in 1996. Phil was coaching the full GB side and approached me over there to come to Sheffield. It may not have worked out for Phil, but it certainly worked out for me.
“The Academy tour was a great experience. We pushed the Kiwis very close in two of the games and it was great for our players to see young players like Adrian Morley and Keith Senior on the main tour. It showed them that the pathway was there and the RFL should have been applauded for that. I’d also coached the GB Academy in 1993 against the Kiwis who were led by Henry Paul. We lost at Wembley where Iestyn Harris scored a superb try and won at Wigan.”
If Kear hadn’t gone to Paris, he admits there’s a chance he might not have got into club coaching.
“That’s a very good point. Life offers different challenges at different times and I think that things are meant to happen… even the sacking at Hull!
“When I took over at Sheffield, the players were beating themselves up a bit because they hadn’t been playing well. The first thing we had to do was get some confidence in them and the big thing in that respect was beating Perth Reds in 1997 in the World Club Challenge tournament. We were 22-4 down but we won 24-22 and Marcus Vassilakopolous made a great tackle at the end to jolt the ball free. If he didn’t make any other contribution to the club, that was massive. We were the first British team to win on British soil and you could see the players thinking, ‘perhaps we aren’t so bad’.
“We then had a great run towards the end of the season and although we didn’t win a game in Australia, the training over there was outstanding. We came back and beat Wigan and went on a run of five or six games without losing. We beat London, who had come second, at the Stoop in the end of season Premiership competition and we hammered them. We then went to Central Park in the semi-final and didn’t lose by much. We could have won that night and, gradually, confidence was seeping into the players.
“In 1998 the aim was to hit the ground running because the Challenge Cup rounds were before the Super League season kicked off. The players probably didn’t believe we would win the Cup but when we won at Cas in that quarter-final, their self-belief went through the roof.”
Unbeknown to many, Barry Johnson, the Wembley-winning Cas forward, was to provide a link between the 1986 final and Kear’s finest moment in 1998.
“Barry kept a diary of the build-up to Wembley and every tiny detail,” said Kear. “I got him in to speak to our players at Sheffield about what they could expect and he prepared us psychologically to prepare for a cup final when the vast majority of our players hadn’t played at that level, not compared to the great Wigan players at least.
“Barry was a personnel manager and a smart fella. He did a great job and was a big part of Sheffield’s victory. He’d written down how he felt in trainings and in meetings as well as the bus journeys and the walk about the day before the final. He’d visualised winning the Cup with Cas and he passed that on to our players.”
Sheffield beat Leigh, Egremont and Castleford to set up a semi-final clash with Andy Gregory’s Salford.
“Cas had beaten Leeds and Bradford and people thought they’d beat us. The game’s remembered for Keith Senior’s little episode with Barrie-Jon Mather. Keith was subsequently banned for four games but wasn’t sent off and stayed on to score two tries. If he’d been sent off, the whole thing might not have happened.
“In the semi, Salford were the better team but it was desire and determination that got us there and that was epitomised by Dale Laughton who crashed over from short range with three players on him late on. It was a super-human effort and it won us the game. Dale was exceptional in 1998.
“As well as Dale playing for Great Britain, we had Paul Broadbent who was a superb front rower and Johnny Lawless and Darren Turner, two very good hookers in their different ways. Darren Shaw was a workaholic second rower, Paul Carr was as good a linebreaker as you could find in a second rower and there was Rod Doyle, a really clever footballer locking the pack in.
“Behind them you had Mark Aston, an organiser supreme with a great kicking game and the maverick skill of Dave Watson and players like Keith Senior, Whetu Taewa who was an outstanding defensive centre, Nick Pinkney who played for England and Matt Crowther as well as Waisale. We didn’t have a bad team did we? But people seemed to think we did.
“We then played four Super League games and only won against Huddersfield. But I’ll happily admit that we put all of our eggs in the final basket. If anybody had a broken fingernail they didn’t play and the training had been structured towards the final. We did a lot of donkey work in the first couple of weeks and the lads suffered for it against Hull in the first game after the semi. We then lost two more before beating Huddersfield.
“Waisale Sovatabua got sent off and we had to go to his disciplinary hearing in the week of the final. But he got off and we were sensing that things were going our way.
“The final was a sensational performance. It was 33 minutes before we made an error and we were 10-2 up by then.”
In a wonderful team performance, it was scrum-half Mark Aston’s craft and kicking game that brought him Lance Todd honours but he was pushed close by a number of his teammates as they ripped into Wigan from the kick-off.
“For me – and I’ve watched the game a number of times – the best three were Aston, Broadbent and Watson but I think they got the Lance Todd decision right. We had a big advantage in the kicking game with Mark out there but don’t forget he also got under the ball to stop Andy Farrell scoring in the second half, which would have pulled them back to 17-14. That was massive.”
The game is recorded as one of Rugby League’s finest moments at Wembley. It simply defied the odds; much more so than Leigh’s 1971 win over Leeds or Featherstone’s 1983 success over Hull FC.
“It was just a matter of visualisation and a lot of athletes in the past have bought into that. Some of the players walked up to the royal box the day before imagining they were going up to receive the Cup.”
Kear also claims he was riled by the media the week before the final.
“Paul Broadbent and myself went down to London for the press conference in the week of the final. Phil Clarke, Wigan’s chief executive, and Andy Farrell were there too. Nobody asked Paul and I any questions apart from whether we wanted tea or coffee when we got there! The journalists asked Andy and Phil all the questions, wanting to know was how many Wigan were going to win by and what it would do for their club.”
The general consensus in the aftermath was that the triumph would light League’s touchpaper in the Steel city. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.
“The big realisation for me that we were still struggling to make an impact was when we came back for the civic reception and I compared it to Cas in 1986 when there were thousands and thousands of people lining the streets. Sadly, in Sheffied that day there were hardly any people there. The council paid lip service to it, without realising the significance of what we’d done. I knew that if people didn’t acknowledge our Cup win then we were going to struggle.”
Less than 18 months later, there was to be no more Super League in Sheffield. Bizarrely, it was announced that the Eagles were to merge with Huddersfield Giants with Kear in charge of the new club.
“One reason why it was disappointing for me is that I was offered the St Helens job in 1998 when they knew Shaun McRae was leaving.
“I informed the Sheffield board and they told me that Sheffield would become an elite club in the near future. I stayed loyal to Sheffield Eagles then within 12 months there was the merger. Well, it wasn’t a merger, it was a takeover. If there’s one decision in my career I regret it’s not being ruthless at that point and taking the St Helens job.
“Sheffield matched what Saints had offered me so it wasn’t a financial decision. I should have gone to St Helens because it would have been the best career choice for me and when Mick Potter was uhmming and aarghing recently about Saints recently, I said to my wife that the best thing for him would be to go to St Helens and give it a shot there.
“As for the Sheffield-Huddersfield episode, it was very hard. I bought a house between Huddersfield and Sheffield because we were told there’d be two training bases and two playing venues, with each city used to keep up the supporter base. We were told there would be the same number of games in each but it just didn’t happen. Everything was in Huddersfield.
“I’m not making excuses but it was an impossible job with two different cultures there. There was the Sheffield culture where the players were being frugally paid, shall we say, but at Huddersfield there were players on three times the money and not performing. In one culture we had under-paid and over-worked players and in the other there were over-paid and under-worked players.
“It was the least enjoyable time I’ve had in Rugby League. Another culture had to emerge from the ashes of each club and that’s what happened under Tony Smith. I got the bullet after about 11 games, of which we’d won two yet Tony lost his first 11.
“I never got an explanation why Sheffield were treated so badly. A lot of development work had been done in schools and clubs like Hillsborough Hawks and if Mark Aston hadn’t revived the game there it would have gone to waste.”
When Kear was sacked as coach of Huddersfield, he still had the World Cup to look forward to where he would coach England.
“I coached England in 1999 against France while Andy Goodway was the Great Britain coach,” he said. “Realistically, I thought Andy would coach England in the 2000 World Cup but he was sacked after the 1999 Tri-Nations and I got the World Cup job. In the meantime, they brought in David Waite to coach GB from 2001, which was their prerogative.
“David was there as an advisor in the World Cup but there was no interference in team selection etc as has been suggested. I think we handled a pretty difficult situation very well. David Howes, the England manager, was absolutely first class and organised everything superbly and he gave me the freedom to just coach.”
With a host of established players unavailable, Kear’s squad included a number of uncapped youngsters.
“I don’t think they were bold selections – we just had a lot of players unavailable. Jason Robinson went to rugby union after the Grand Final. Players like Gary Connolly, Chris Joynt, Barrie McDermott, Terry O’Connor, Tommy Martyn, Keiron Cunningham and Iestyn Harris were going to play for other countries and we had several injuries while Paul Newlove had retired from international football.
“During the competition we were hampered by injuries to Adrian Morley and Paul Sculthorpe. I ended up using Paul in the semi-final against New Zealand when he wasn’t fully fit. We took a punt but it didn’t work and it’s not something I’d do again. You can make a mistake once but if you make it again, you’re a fool. Paul didn’t have his best game. Whether you win or lose, you have to analyse your role in it and, on that day, I picked the wrong team.
“But Stuart Fielden, Paul Wellens, Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Leon Pryce and Chev Walker were given their first international caps. Even now, when I see these guys they speak very fondly about the competition.”
England lost their opening game to Australia 22-2 but comfortable wins over Fiji and Russia saw them move into the knock-out stages where they beat Ireland before being hammered by the Kiwis 49-6.
“We weren’t as bad as people suggested,” argues Kear. “We just had that terrible semi-final performance against New Zealand. We beat Ireland pretty comfortably in the quarter-final when people expected us to lose and there were plenty of positives to come out of the Australia game such as the performances of the young players. That’s probably why the RFL kept me on as England A coach.
“The semi-final was the longest 80 minutes of my life. Our performances had improved as the competition went on but we just imploded that day and I have to take responsibility. But the players did as well. After the World Cup, I received a really nice letter from Andy Farrell who said that they let themselves down and that we were all in it together. We all learned from it, especially Andy who went on to be a great leader for Great Britain for years to come.”
A proud Yorkshireman, Kear has nearly always worked east of the Pennines. The exception was a spell on the Wigan coaching staff in 2001 and 2002.
“Maurice Lindsay approached me to go to Wigan as Stuart Raper’s number two and we made a good team. We got to the Grand Final, although we got a shellacking from Bradford, and we got to Murrayfield in 2002 where we won the Challenge Cup in what is now known as the Kris Radlinski final.
“Kris had his toe drained in the week leading up to the final and it wasn’t a pretty sight. He was in slippers 24 hours before the game because he could hardly walk but the doctor did a great job and Kris won the Lance Todd.
“Jamie Ainscough and Julian O’Neill had great games and so did Gary Connolly and Adrian Lam who led the team around so well.”
Ending Hull’s Trophy Drought
“I enjoyed my time there but Shaun McRae approached me to go to Hull and it pretty much came down to the fact that Hull was a lot easier for me to get to. I’d also known and liked Shaun for a number of years. He was director of rugby and I was first-team coach so it could be looked upon as a promotion.
“Shaun and I got on very well and we had an excellent working relationship. I first met him in 1992 when I went out to replace Phil Larder on the Lions tour as Malcolm’s assistant. Shaun was the Australian conditioner. A friendship grew from there and I’ve always wished him well in anything he does.
“Hull were survivors in Super League initially. Shaun made them into competitors and when I took over we won a trophy.”
That trophy was the 2005 Challenge Cup, another underdog success for Kear.
“That Challenge Cup run was a great campaign. We beat Super League sides all the way including Bradford, St Helens and Leeds so we earned it.
“We had a great first half against Bradford and they came back but the scoreline was closer than the game really was. We controlled the game more than you’d guess by looking at the score.
“In the semi-final against Saints, we produced the best performance from any Hull side when I was there. It was like the Eagles in 1998 in that everything went to script. Given how we played, we’d have taken some beating from any side in the world. Defensively we were superb. They scored one try from a kick and no others. Our kicking game was exceptional and our finishing was clinical. Paul Cooke had an exceptional game down the left and he kicked some great goals. When he scored his try from the run around with McMenemy and then kicked the goal from the sideline, I knew it would be our day.
“We started talking about winning the Challenge Cup in pre-season and the players all bought into it. We’d come third the season before so we were sitting among the elite we just needed to take the step from competitors to winners.”
On the eve of the final, Shaun Briscoe was forced to withdraw through illness.
“Things went wrong for Shaun obviously but, to be truthful, it inspired us as a team. We all wanted to do it for Brisc because he was such a popular player. And it probably took Leeds by shock when Nathan Blacklock lined up at fullback with Motu Tony on the right wing. Motu produced that piece of genius for his chip-kick try and Nathan had a very good game at fullback. So in a perverse way, Shaun’s illness inspired the group.
“We’d played very well for a lot of the game but we went five points down with not too long left. We just felt that it was about hanging in there because an opportunity would come our way. That’s what happened and credit to Richard Horne for switching play to where Leeds hadn’t numbered up properly and credit to Paul Cooke for the show and go movement that led to him scoring. Danny Brough still had to kick the goal to win us the Cup.
“We went through the same visualisation techniques that I had done at Sheffield seven years earlier but it didn’t involve the same siege mentality because it wasn’t needed so much at Hull. It was more about concentrating on the performance itself. We were still underdogs but nowhere near to the same extent. With Hull it was about performing as our lives depended on it and that’s what we did.”
After the Cup win, Hull made the play-offs beating a Warrington side that contained Andrew Johns. Then they travelled to eventual champions Bradford and were hammered 71-0 with Steve Kearney sent off after five minutes. Kear was sacked midway through the following season. Not even Hull’s first major trophy since their 1983 League Championship kept him in a job. At the time, rumours found their way onto internet forums that a couple of senior overseas players had their fingerprints on the lever of Kear’s guillotine.
“I wasn’t aware of that,” says Kear. “I’d be disappointed it that was the truth. I don’t know what discussions went on.
“Either way it was a shock to me. I wasn’t aware of any disquiet and we’d won three of the first seven Super League games. We played well at Bradford in the Challenge Cup despite losing. All in all I think Hull’s decision to fire me was premature. I’d stated to the board in pre-season that we had a very tough start to the season and if we were in the top half after ten rounds then we wouldn’t be far away at the end and that’s how it transpired – albeit with someone else in charge!
“The conversation between myself and the chairman and chief executive will remain confidential because I accepted a severance package.
“I was disappointed and it hurt a lot. I could understand my sacking at Huddersfield where there were cliques in the club but I was very disappointed to leave Hull like that.”
Kear the Escapologist
But as one door closes another opens. With six games to go in 2006, Wakefield had just parted company with Tony Smith, the former Castleford and Wigan scrum-half, and looked certain to be relegated.
“You felt the script had been written,” said Kear.
“I’d spent some time in 2006 out of the game so I was hungry and desperate to get back into the game. I felt re-born and it was a match made in heaven for me.”
Out of a squad of 25 players, how many did Kear felt were resigned to relegation?
“All of them,” he says without hesitation.
“We had six games to turn it around and the biggest thing in our favour was that they’d been knocked out of the Challenge Cup so we had a two-week preparation for the first Castleford game that we won 18-0. Gradually they bought into the work ethic and the belief. You could see the enjoyment and sense of purpose return to the group.
“That first game at Cas was absolutely vital. We were 4-0 up at half-time with Monty Betham sent off. Some of the players were wondering if it would fall apart and what needed to change but I told them to go out there and play in exactly the same way. They did that and won. After that result, I was absolutely confident we were staying up.”
Kear not only made the players believe in themselves, as he had at Sheffield, he tinkered with the side tactically, principally in defence.
“There was a restructuring of systems basically, especially defensively. The fact we nilled Cas made the players realise I knew what I was talking about. They were too passive in their defence. I decided that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down fighting and we adopted the blitz system, as they call it in rugby union, of getting into their faces and putting the opposition under pressure.
“I didn’t need to tinker with things offensively. We had David Solomona, Ben Jeffries and Monty Betham out there. They knew what to do with ball in hand. We just had to sort our defence out.
“We then beat Catalans and only lost 14-12 to Leeds. We went to Saints and played well but Michael Korkidas got sent off and we lost so we had to go to Bradford and win. We put in a sensational performance at Odsal with Bradford needing to win as well. We were supreme, especially Solomona.
“The preparation for the decider against Cas was very good indeed. Once we got over the initial nervousness with Cas taking the lead, we played very well and put the game to bed.
“James Evans was another big player for us. He came to the club a week before I did and he was really good. He did all the little things well, he was exemplary at training and was supportive of the coaching staff. He was sensational and a big part of Wakefield staying up, scoring twice in that last game.”
Kear had signed a very short-term deal but it took the board just three weeks to realise he was the man for them.
“I signed until the end of that season initially. When I spoke to Wakefield I told them I was a Super League coach and they were a Super League club. After three games, they agreed a one-year extension regardless of whether we got relegated or not. That’s how pleased Steve Ferres [chief executive] and the board were with me.
“I rank that survival up there with anything. Without sounding conceited, Paul Broadbent and I galvanised the players into some belief that they could stay up.
In 2007, the players enjoyed the luxury of a fight for a top-six berth rather than another battle against the drop. Kear had improved the side to such an extent that relegation was never an issue.
“Last year we used the siege mentality and we had the second last pick of all the players,” he said. “We knew it was us against the world and we had a good year, almost making the top six.”
After keeping the club in super League in 2006, Kear’s goal was to give the side a more British feel. In the crucial encounter with Cas, they went into the game with only one British player. To such a committed Anglophile, that wasn’t right.
“The players are there in the National Leagues, it’s the opportunities that aren’t. There’s a lot of talent in both National Leagues – they just need the chance and the guidance. At Hull, we gave Danny Brough and Richard Whiting opportunities and they paid us back tenfold and at Wakefield we’ve given chances to Jason Golden, Matty Blaymire, Peter Fox, Oli Wilkes, Scott Grix and Damien Blanch. Then we’ve helped Richard Moore and Ricky Bibey re-invent themselves.
“The proof of the pudding is in France where Catalans have taken most of their squad from their local competition which is National League standard and it hasn’t done them any harm has it?
“You watch the games on Sky and you see some really good players. We played Barrow recently and Martin Ostler in the second row is a bloody good player. You could easily put a good 13 together if you looked through the National Leagues.”
Kear also insists that Super League should be expanded to 14 teams.
“There’s no doubt about it. There should be 14 teams in the Super League and the existing 12 should get a licence. I’m certain Wakefield will be a good licence because I’m certain we’ll get a new stadium. Player-wise we’re getting better as the league tables show in the last couple of years, our income streams and structures within the club are getting better. I think Wakefield will get a licence and at the end of the first three-year period, you’ll see them established in a very high-quality stadium with a high-quality team.
“In the last game of 2006, we had one British player in the 13. There would have been two but Ryan Atkins was injured. so it was a conscious decision to make the squad more British. There had been too much short termism and I had to sell the idea to the board that they had to have faith in young British talent and they backed me. Subsequently, there’s been no downturn in our performances. In fact we’ve got better.
“I’m looking forward to growing more Wakefield players because it’s something I love to do. We got Dale Ferguson, Jay Pitts, Cain Southernwood and Danny Cowling who I’m certain will become established Super League players.
“Win-loss ratios are important. Trophies are important. But I love to see young players develop into accomplished players where you can say you’ve had a positive input on their lives. There’s a number I come across on the Rugby League circuit who are close to me. You shake hands and you know there’s a certain bond there.”
“It’s one of the most rewarding things you can get. With my background in education, I can appreciate it. I’m thoroughly proud I’ve had a positive influences on some people’s lives.”