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Melbourne Storm skipper Stephen Kearney believes the time will be right to join the English Super League when he leaves the NRL for English club Hull at the end of the year.
Kearney has ended ongoing speculation about his future by agreeing to join Hull at season�s end and despite receiving previous offers to leave the NRL, the 32-year-old believes the time to make the move to England is fast approaching.
�I�ve had opportunities in the past to go there (England) and at that time of my career I didn�t think I was quite ready,� Kearney said.
�It has been an interest for some time but as the years in my career have drawn closer to an end I really didn�t think I�d get an opportunity to go to the UK, but as it�s turned out we I so I�m looking forward to it.
�The NRL is the toughest competition for our sport and when presented with the chance to go to the UK in the past I thought I still needed to challenge myself here.
�I think I�ve met those challenges and I feel that this will be a new chapter for my family and for my career.�
After helping the Storm claim the 1999 premiership in his first season with the club, Kearney has gone on to become one of rugby league�s greatest servants with a playing record unparalleled.
Kearney has made over 250 NRL appearances � the record for a New Zealand born player - and shares the record for the most international rugby league games having represented the Kiwis 45 times.
In his second season as Storm skipper Kearney, who will move to Hull with his wife and two young daughters, spent much time deliberating over the decision to leave the Storm at the end of the season.
�Obviously it�s a big career move with respect to taking the family to Britain, so with that in mind a lot of thought has gone into the decision,� said Kearney, who was the youngest ever skipper of his country at age 21.
�We are really looking at it as a new and exciting challenge and for me and my family it�s about making the best career move at this particular time in my career, if we go over there thinking it�s not the right move then it will be tough, but that won�t be the case.�
While a move to the English Super League is imminent, Kearney�s focus is solely on the Storm�s aspirations for the remainder of the 2004 Telstra Premiership season.
�Obviously there will be issues to address with the move to Britain but at the moment I�m totally committed to what I have to do as a leader of this side, he said.
�As always my focus is on making sure this team puts in the performance it is capable of each week and even more so I�m focused on getting right for Saturday night�s match.�
Kearney�s decision to join Hull was enhanced by the prospect of linking up with former Storm teammate and close friend Richard Swain who has been with the English club since the start of the year.
�I keep in contact with Richard quite a bit and he assures me that the club is very similar to us here at the Storm with a hardworking group. That was certainly a considerable factor,� he explained.
According to Kearney, the Storm�s depth is strong enough to cover his loss for the 2005 season and beyond.
�I feel supremely confident that I will be leaving my Storm jumper in very capable hands�the young guys coming through here are exceptional so I�ve no doubt that they�ll take up the jumper accordingly,� Kearney added.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy paid tribute to Kearney�s professionalism and his ability to lead the club despite battling ongoing groin and hamstring injuries recently.
�We wish Steve all the best, he�s been a wonderful player for the club, he�s been a wonderful help to me as a captain and as long as it�s the best decision for him and his family, we�re very happy for him,� Bellamy said.
�Steve manages his injuries probably better than anyone I�ve ever seen before, he puts a lot of time and effort into his preparation and I think he probably could have had another year here but hopefully for his sake he�ll get another two or three in England.
�All good things come to and end but he is still keen to play football and I�m sure he will do a great job over there with Hull - he�ll be welcome back here any time.�
Melbourne chief executive Frank Stanton echoed Bellamy�s admiration, highlighting the Storm skipper�s professionalism on and off the field.
�Steve will be a difficult person to replace because he�s such a role model for other players, his playing record speaks for itself and his standing in the game speaks for itself,� Stanton said.
�I�m quite delighted that he has been able to secure the situation that he has at this stage of his career and I�m sure that down the track he will achieve success in whatever role he chooses as either a coach or, due to his extensive business studies, as an administrator.�