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Cleary a crucial World Cup cog: Kearney

Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney won't compare his new assistant Ivan Cleary to Wayne Bennett but believes he can make a similar impact in their bid to defend the World Cup.
Cleary a crucial World Cup cog: Kearney
by AAP

By Daniel Gilhooly

WELLINGTON, July 2 AAP - Kiwis coach Stephen Kearney won't compare his new assistant Ivan Cleary to Wayne Bennett but believes he can make a similar impact in their bid to defend the World Cup.

Panthers and former Warriors coach Cleary was unveiled on Tuesday as New Zealand's assistant coach at the tournament hosted by Great Britain and France, where the Kiwis will seek to repeat their 2008 heroics. His contract ends after the five-week tournament finishes on November 30.

Cleary's role mirrors that of Australian coaching great Bennett five years ago, who helped Kearney mastermind a 34-20 win over the Kangaroos in the World Cup final at Brisbane.

Kearney says he didn't consider approaching Bennett to reprise the role as he knew a two-month commitment in Europe wouldn't suit the 63-year-old.

However, Cleary, 42, was a natural fit due to an understanding of New Zealand culture, harnessed over three seasons as a Warriors player (2000-02) and six as head coach (2006-11). Both stints included an NRL grand final appearance.

Kearney says it is difficult to compare Cleary with 37-year coaching guru Bennett but that shouldn't detract from Tuesday's announcement.

"They're obviously totally different in a lot of ways but the more minds that we have there trying to win a World Cup, the better.

"For where we are, I think Ivan's ideal for us."

Kearney identified the need for an assistant after April's 32-12 Anzac Test loss to Australia in Canberra and said Cleary would inject freshness, as well as an important set of selection eyes in Australia.

His tactical thoughts won't be called upon until close to the tournament, once his Panthers' NRL season duties have finished.

Cleary says he was shocked when approached but was excited by a challenge that will see him renew ties with some of his former charges at the Warriors.

"It's probably the best Kiwis squad that I've seen in my time and I think it's a great opportunity to defend the title.

"I've been watching their progress from afar and they're developing nicely."

He agrees with suggestions he is "half a Kiwi" having spent much of his adult life based in Auckland, where he still has many connections and raised his children.

Until this offer landed, he didn't think his coaching ambitions extended to the representative arena.

"I was probably too busy trying to keep a job down doing what I'm doing. But there must have been an underlying ambition there for sure."

It was also confirmed on Tuesday that former Kiwis wing Tony Iro, who was an assistant coach to Cleary at the Warriors, will be New Zealand's manager at the World Cup.


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