In depth: John Kear

Zach Holland

Over the last two decades it would not be far off to suggest that this man is one of the most influential, experienced and down to earth coaches that has ever graced rugby league. The notion of having love for the game has echoed throughout this man’s legendary career and as the veteran coach celebrated his birthday recently, we take an in depth look at one of British rugby league’s most famous sons, John Kear…….

Residing from Castleford, West Yorkshire, Kear endured a ten-year playing career with his hometown club making over 130 appearances and scoring just over 30 tries before turning his attention to coaching. The first port of call being that of the ambitious French side PSG in 1995.

After a couple of average seasons with the French outfit, Kear eventually turned his attention closer to home and taking over the reigns at South Yorkshire side Sheffield Eagles. The Yorkshire native’s first high-profile gig as a head coach. Now, no matter the sport, we discuss a lot about making your mark when it comes to new arrivals and in his three-season stint with the Eagles he would certainly leave everlasting impressions on not just the Sheffield faithful but the face of rugby league, giving us a glimpse of his potential coaching and tactical prowess. Despite only one season in, Kear led an inspiring Sheffield side to the 1997 Premiership trophy semi-finals (the competitions last as Super League continued to grow), an 8th placed finish in Super League and the fifth round of the Challenge Cup. Now, even though that does not sound the best when you look at it like that on paper but was enough for Kear to continue as head coach and in hindsight proved to be the correct call.

The following season proved just that, with the 1998 Challenge Cup seeing an ambitious Sheffield side, produce one of the competitions and sports greatest shocks by knocking over the formidable Wigan 17-8 and claiming their first ever Challenge Cup triumph. A brilliant and tactical game plan was put forth that day by Kear and a legacy was cemented in the folklore of Sheffield rugby and rugby league itself.

The early 2000s brought with it Kear’s ultimate challenge as a head coach after taking charge of the England squad for the 2000 World Cup, reaching the semi-finals before being knocked out by New Zealand.

By 2005, Kear made the move on to Hull FC in an assistant role before taking over the reigns as head coach after Shaun McRae left to take charge of the South Sydney Rabbitohs. Whilst there his ability to make an impression felt like it was becoming a common occurrence as Kear made his mark on the Airlie Birds and on the Challenge Cup scene once again. That season saw a Hull FC side featuring the likes of Paul Cooke and Richard Horne finish 5th in Super League before going on to claim the Challenge Cup after a narrow 25-24 victory over a progressive Leeds side that featured Kear’s former Sheffield player, Keith Senior.

Just over a season after being charge of Hull FC, the familiar aura of West Yorkshire came calling as Kear took over the head coach role at Wakefield through the 2006 season and beginning his longest spell as a rugby league head coach. It would never be an easy task though as Kear was faced with the undeniable prospect of a relegation battle. As the end of the season approached with only six games left, Kear was able to steer the Wildcats away from potential relegation, winning 4 of their last six games and succumbing arch rivals Castleford to life in National League 1. During each season that went by at Belle Vue his influence and leadership became all the more evident as he led an untried and inexperienced Wakefield side to 8th position (their second highest Super League finish) before leading them to a 5th placed finish in 2009, their joint highest finish in the Super League era.

After six seasons at Belle Vue, Kear turned his attention to Batley signing on as head coach in 2011 and once again cementing a noteworthy impact at the club, with the Bulldogs finishing third in his last season in 2016. A position that would secure their place in the qualifiers against the likes of Leeds, Huddersfield and Salford.

Now, as 2019 draws ever nearer the 64-year-old shows no signs of slowing down as he currently sits at the helm at both Bradford Bulls and the Welsh international team as well as regularly appearing on BBC’s coverage of rugby league bringing a fresh approach along with his own brand of wit, analysis and expertise to the commentary box after so many years of being involved in the historic game.

Whilst at the Bulls, Kear has looked to capture some of the old glory that was once there but lost among a sea of poor ownership and bad decision making. After being appointed at the beginning of last season there seemed to be a shared optimism that Kear was just the right man for the job. A successful 2018 campaign has seen the four-time Super League champions promoted from the second tier back to the Championship and look to begin a slow but steady climb back to the top with Kear in tow. Although one cannot predict what lies ahead for the West Yorkshire club following their recent predicaments, there does however seem to be a new-found sense of stability and unity that has long since been missing at the once dominant club. It should never be suggested though that this doing is all on Kear. There are always other mitigating factors whether it be the new ownership or better promotion, but influence is always key and is an aspect Kear has always brought to clubs he has been involved with.

If there was ever man who had experienced the high and lows of rugby league it could most certainly be this man. Over four decades of being a part of the great game, you can look back at the career Kear has had and there are always going to be those who are sceptical. You can look at his lack of longevity at certain clubs or his lack of silverware you still cannot argue this man’s true influence amongst these clubs. The rugby league stalwart has always brought a true sense of motivation and leadership to any locker room and the picture of Kear being hoisted by his Bulls players after their play off win over Workington is an image that stands as true testament to the fact. Now, as the Bulls prepare for life in the Championship and the Welsh national team sees a new brand of youngsters rising through the ranks, there only looks to be more to add to another exciting chapter in this man’s legendary career and I for one cannot wait to see what happens next.