The rich rewards in line for ‘Joey-like’ Keary
Luke Keary is staring down the barrel of a State of Origin debut and possibly even a million-dollar payday after a sizzling start to season 2019.
Rugby league experts have heaped praise on the Roosters playmaker after he steered the team to victory in wet conditions over Manly on Saturday.
Last year's Clive Churchill Medallist set up four first-half tries, kicked for 336 metres, forced three dropouts, had two linebreak assists and an offload.
The most impressive part was he did it all without his million-dollar halves partner Cooper Cronk.
Cronk sat the game out injured, as did captain and hooker Jake Friend. That left Keary to shoulder the bulk of the duties in attack, and he handled the added responsibility with aplomb.
It was a throwback to the 2018 grand final, when Cronk's busted shoulder meant Keary did almost all the ball-playing, and won him a man of the match medallion in a winning side.
Fox League expert Braith Anasta likened Saturday's performance to Immortal halfback Andrew Johns.
"Keary is head and shoulders (above the competition) right now. I have him at No.1 in halves in the competition, easily," Anasta said.
A number of commentators are backing Keary to break into the NSW team for this year's Origin series.
James Maloney and Nathan Cleary are the incumbent Blues halves but Keary's hot form is hard for coach Brad Fittler to ignore.
Channel 9 commentators Ruan Sims and Darren Lockyer agree Keary could be headed towards an Origin debut this year.
"Club footy is different to Origin football there's no doubt about that. But to be Churchill medallist in a grand final doesn't get any bigger so you know he can handle the big stage," Lockyer said.
"He's in the discussion but Brad Fittler has come out and said 'I'm going to be loyal to the incumbents' so he's going to have to do a hell of a lot to force his way in there."
Keary's stunning performance could also earn him a hefty contract upgrade, possibly as soon as next year.
With Cronk off contract and mulling retirement, the Roosters will need a new halfback, and Keary looms as the man to step into those shoes.
Cronk was brought to Bondi on about $1 million a season. If Keary takes Cronk's jumper, he could also demand the same pay packet.
"A lot's been made of Luke Keary's performance in the grand final last year, but I think the first half of (Saturday) night was probably the best ball-playing display of Luke Keary's career," retired legend Billy Slater told Channel 9.
"It sets up the future. They've got options there, they don't have to buy another halfback. They can buy a running five-eighth and put Luke Keary in (halfback)."
Keary himself is open to the idea of moving from five-eighth to fullback.
"Once (Cronk) decides to finish, (coach Trent Robinson) will probably sit down and say what way do we want to go," Keary told NRL.com after the game.
"Whether he wants to push me into the seven I would be happy to do it, or if he wants to keep me in the six I'm more than happy to do that too."