Luke Keary has worked hard to get back on the football field after suffering a serious pectoral injury in the Auckland Nines. Credit: Robb Cox. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Once deemed too small to ride the Parramatta rollercoaster, Rabbitohs utility Luke Keary is set to return to the Eels stomping ground this Friday night and haunt the side that punted him as a junior.
When Keary turned up for a Harold Matthews trial at Pirtek Stadium as a 16-year-old, he was told he lacked the size to make a proper fist of the greatest game of all, and ended up running around with the rah-rahs for a couple of years before finding his way to Souths via short, uncertain stints with Manly and Burleigh Bears in the Intrust Super Cup.
Having copped the stigma over his size, or lack thereof, plenty of times, Keary admits being labelled too small once stung the now 22-year-old whose stature has now risen to one of the most exciting youngsters in the NRL.
"I did get (labelled small) a bit," says Keary, who at 178 cm ironically has two inches on both teammate Adam Reynolds and Chris Sandow, the man the Eels threw over half a million a season at to leave the Burrow around the same time Keary was working his way through the Bunnies' under-20s ranks.
"I got it at Parra when I was real young... they gave me the flick in under-16s and told me I was a bit too little. I went and played union.
"It was really disappointing. You’re young and people are telling you that you’re too small to play footy.
"It’s not the best, but the recruitment officers have a hard job. They have to make split decisions when they are younger. They don’t know how you are going to turn out. It’s hard to see how a kid is going to turn out."
And for his part, Keary's mind is on his continued return from what he had initially feared was a season-ending pectoral injury rather than revenge on the club that spurned him.
Slated as a rather similar yin to link with the yang of halfback Reynolds before going down in the Auckland Nines and spending the next 17 weeks working his way back to fitness through "basically another pre-season", Keary and Reynolds will continue to reprise the halves partnership when he enters the fray from the bench on Friday night.
While admitting their similarities in stature and playing styles, Keary is confident his combination with Reynolds and starting five-eighth John Sutton will refine a Rabbitohs attacking structure that has at times been as subtle as a sledge hammer wielded by Clive Palmer in 2014.
"With Adam we're pretty similar, we're both small and quick," says Keary, who will play his second game of the year after getting through a full 80 minutes in the Rabbitohs last-start loss to the Titans.
"We like to move around the field a lot and it's good when Johnny's there in the middle a lot, we kind of move around him.
"We didn't get to see it during the Gold Coast game because we didn't have much of the ball but the combo works pretty well and it's pretty exciting."
As the Rabbitohs look to again put some distance between themselves in fourth position and a trailing pack of seven teams, which includes the Eels, within two competition points, Keary concedes the Bunnies' attack remains a work in progress, and that the option of playing Sutton in the halves still has the potential to be a winner for the cardinal and myrtle as coach Michael Maguire continues to tinker with his side.
"We obviously had him there [in the halves] at the start of the year," says Keary. "I wouldn't say it didn't work out... I just think that as a team we didn't perform.
"We weren't performing at the time. I don't think it would've mattered who was in and who was out there.
"I'm not too sure what Madge wants or where he's at.
Wherever he wants me to play or what job he wants me to do on the field I'm happy to do it."