Keary an ambivalent Origin bolter after catching Fittler’s eye
If you told Luke Keary 12 months ago his NSW Origin debut may end up being at halfback, he would have thought you were from Mars.
Keary has won two NRL titles at five-eighth and honed his craft in the No. 6 jersey since bursting onto the scene at South Sydney in 2013. He admits that just one year ago, the thought of playing halfback at the Roosters made him shudder.
Luke Keary is trying to keep a lid on talk of an Origin berth at either No.6 or 7 as he deputises for Cooper Cronk with distinction.Credit:AAP
But with Cooper Cronk sidelined by a hamstring complaint, Keary has been thrust into the role by coach Trent Robinson.
He has thrived. Five try assists in two wins for the Tri-colours later, Keary is starting to feel at home as the Chooks' chief playmaker.
"I’ve never enjoyed playing seven. I think I am starting – I’m a bit older now – so I think I’m starting to understand a bit more about the role," Keary said. "I do enjoy playing six, I enjoy the freedom and being able to pick my moments.
"But it’s been an enjoyable couple of weeks, being able to play that role, learn it and have a bit of help in the background with it."
The help Keary referenced has largely come from Cronk's brilliant football brain.
He is the ultimate game manager, a skill Keary has not put a great deal of work into as a freestyle type five-eighth.
"As a seven, you have to be thinking a couple of plays, a couple of sets in advance as to where we want to finish and how we want to start," Keary said. "How the game is feeling, flowing, how we are feeling and how they’re feeling. I’ve learnt a lot about rugby league, to be honest, and how football actually works."
Keary's performances in Cronk's absence have caught the eye of NSW coach Brad Fittler.
The halves pair which led Fittler's NSW side to a dominant series win last year – Nathan Cleary and James Maloney – haven't set the world alight behind a struggling Penrith pack and that has opened the door for Keary, as either a No. 6 or No. 7.
Keary aims up with the Eels’ Blake Ferguson during the Roosters win on Friday night. Credit:AAP
"The thing Luke Keary does is he can play both positions," Fittler told Nine's Sunday Footy Show. "He plays five-eighth really well, he played five-eighth when Souths won the comp, he played five-eighth for a couple of years outside Mitchell (Pearce), he's been coached by Joey (Andrew Johns), he knows exactly what to do as a five-eighth.
"But as we can see, he's a brilliant halfback. Bring in the touch and the kicking under pressure, that is a job that has taken years and years of practice.
"Spending that time with Cooper last year and nailing it in the grand final and doing whatever's needed at the moment. He can play both positions, that's where he's going to put pressure on all of them."
Keary has heard the talk putting him in Origin contention, though he's not one to embrace it.
"I've had it for a while now, even since I was a bit younger," he said. "To be honest, it doesn't affect me too much at all."
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