South Sydney veteran Roy Asotasi believes Luke Keary can play the same role for the Rabbitohs that Johnathan Thurston did for Canterbury during the Bulldogs’ grand final winning season in 2004.
The 21-year-old, who made his first start against Melbourne last week, has been named on the bench for Souths’ vital clash with Manly on Friday in Gosford after John Sutton made a quicker-than-expected recovery from an ankle injury.
But the Queensland-born playmaker is viewed as the Rabbitohs’ long-term five-eighth with the club in negotiations with his management about extending his contract beyond next season.
Asotasi, along with Thurston and Sonny Bill Williams, formed part of arguably the strongest bench ever seen in an NRL grand final in the Bulldogs’ 16-13 win over the Roosters.
And the 32-year-old, who’ll head to English club Warrington at the end of the season, said Keary has all the credentials to be a top-class NRL half.
“He reminds me so much of what Johnno did in 2004, he comes off the bench and offers that extra spark,” Asotasi said.
“They are definitely similar players, both Queenslanders, and Johnno has played the same way throughout his career, worked hard then got his big opportunity at North Queensland.
“Keary is definitely a star of the future and we will be hearing a lot more of him – hopefully Souths can keep him.”
Keary’s rise to a place in one of the NRL’s strongest squads has been a rapid one.
Only three years ago he was the fullback for the Australian schoolboys rugby team having moved to Sydney from north of the Tweed when he was eight where he attended Oakhill College in Castle Hill.
After spending time with NSW Waratahs academy in 2011 he got the opportunity to play with Gold Coast side Burleigh Bears in the Queensland Cup.
He was looked at several times by the Titans, but no offers were forthcoming for his services and Souths’ then recruitment manager Mark Hughes stepped in.
“I played a bit of league and union when I was little, but when I got to high school all my mates played rugby,” Keary said.
“I did play a little bit of SG Ball with Manly, but my focus was very much on union.
“I was with the Waratahs academy, but my heart was always with league and I really wanted to give it a crack so I had to choose.
“At the start of 2012 Souths gave me a chance to come back to Sydney and here I am.”
Keary’s on-field confidence against the premiers was impressive as he showed no nerves in barking orders to his more senior players.
However, the business undergraduate, who’s still studying for his degree one night a week, said his on-field education received a huge step forward when he faced Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk.
“I took a lot out of the game watching Cam and Coops running around and it really helped me,” he said.
“We’d watched video before the game but I pulled a lot from what they’ve done.
“I’ve looked up to those blokes throughout my football career and it was a privilege to play against the them.”