Warriors back Payten, Bennett in the mix

Darren Walton and Daniel Gilhooly
The Warriors' playing squad is set to be revamped after Stephen Kearney's sacking

Veteran utility Gerard Beale says Wayne Bennett's credentials can't be questioned but for now the New Zealand Warriors are throwing their full support behind interim NRL coach Todd Payten.

Despite having more than a year left on his contract at South Sydney, Bennett has been linked to the Warriors following Stephen Kearney's weekend axing.

The Rabbitohs are already preparing for assistant coach Jason Demetriou to take over from Bennett at the end of the 2021 season but it's unclear whether they would release the master mentor early should he find another home.

That could also be Canterbury or a return to St George Illawarra with Bulldogs coach Dean Pay and the Dragons' Paul McGregor both under pressure to retain their jobs.

Bennett, who has already emphatically declared he would "never" return to Brisbane to coach the Broncos - running third-last under Anthony Seibold - turns 71 next year.

But the seven-times premiership-winning coach remains very much in demand and says he'll continue coaching until "I cannot make a difference in players' lives".

Asked on Tuesday if Bennett would be a good fit for the Warriors, Beale said: "I only hope that the club are looking into what's probably going to be the best fit for our environment. I suppose you look at Wayne's history and how successful he's been, he's certainly done well.

"I'm not too sure who's going to be the right man but Todd's stepping up and he's going to lead us and it's important at the moment that us as a playing group support him.

"It's tough for him as well, but we do trust him. He's been around our environment for a while now so we'll certainly focus on now and we'll see where that takes us."

Warriors management say Kearney's early-season dismissal was deliberate to allow the next coach plenty of runway to reshape the squad with 13 players off contract at the end of the season.

Chairman Rob Croot said he could sympathise with those who regard the abrupt sacking of popular coach Kearney as heartless, particularly with the squad forced into its long-quarantine stay on the Central Coast.

However, he said new owners Autex Industries - of which he is chairman - were ambitious and didn't want to waste half a season when a new direction was clearly needed to lift the team's standards.

Croot said a "wishlist" of preferred candidates has been compiled, although he insisted that process didn't begin until after Kearney was dismissed on Saturday.

"There is no timeframe we are working to but ideally we would have somebody lined up fairly quickly, so that person can have due influence over selections and signings for next year," Croot told NZME.

Few coaches have publicly voiced interest aside from former Manly mentor Geoff Toovey.

The Warriors face Melbourne Storm in Sydney on Friday night.