Rabbitohs halves making up for lost time
It's a combination two pre-seasons in the making and South Sydney five-eighth Luke Keary has credited halves partner Adam Reynolds for his own rapid ascension up the rugby league totem pole.
With the 2014 Telstra Premiership now safely tucked into his back pocket, Reynolds has begun the 2015 season as a man with a rare air of confidence, his running game looking just as threatening as the pin-point kicking game that was first unveiled in the NRL in 2013.
Now 80 games into his NRL career and with more than 660 points already to his credit, Reynolds has found a willing ally in Keary, the cheeky rouseabout to Reynolds' cool hand Luke.
The pair actually lost their first two games as a halves combination to the Storm (Round 22, 2013) and Titans (Round 17, 2014) but since Round 21 last season have won eight games and dropped just one when they have run out as the Rabbitohs six and seven.
They were coach Michael Maguire's first-choice halves pairing heading into the 2014 season but Keary's torn pectoral muscle suffered on day one of the Auckland Nines brought their best laid plans undone prior to Round 1.
The permanent move of John Sutton to the back row, the arrival of Glenn Stewart and the continued growth of Greg Inglis has given the Rabbitohs attack a new dimension in 2015 with Reynolds running things on the right edge and Keary taking control on the left.
Reynolds showed signs of nerves in the opening 40 minutes of their Grand Final win over the Bulldogs last year but having come out the other side has guided his team to an Auckland Nines triumph (where he was named Player of the Nines), a World Club Challenge title and a thumping 30-point win over Brisbane in Round 1 where he was named man of the match.
His willingness to run the ball against Brisbane was exhibited by his seven tackle busts while his 71 running metres was more than all but one game in 2014 and Keary believes their close bond provides the foundation for their on-field combination.
"We've got a good relationship, me and Adam, we're good mates and I think it's helped. What's helped as well has been his form too," said Keary, who along with Reynolds extended his contract at South Sydney prior to the season starting.
"He's been awesome for us this year and the back-end of last year and I think everyone doing their job helps you perform.
"He's come out and got player of the tournament at the Nines, would have been close to man of the match in the World Club and I think he got man of the match [against Brisbane].
"He's playing some great footy so hopefully he can keep going the way he's going."
While Reynolds has been discussed as a possible New South Wales Origin representative since his rookie year in 2013, Keary has only just come into the Blues mix in the past 12 months following clarification regarding representative eligibility.
The Ipswich-born 23-year-old initially expressed his desire to represent Queensland but has now warmed to the idea of lining up for the state in which he played the majority of his junior footy.
There's a very real prospect that Keary and Reynolds could one day not only be the Rabbitohs but also the NSW halves and their match-up against Roosters pair Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney on Sunday afternoon will be one of the highlights of the round.
With a crowd of around 40,000 expected to see the two bitter rivals face off against each other at the family-friendly time of 4pm it marks another big game in Keary's young career, a career he hopes is in the early stages of an upward trajectory.
"The scrutiny is what you make of it. If you listen to it and you read it it's going to affect you but I guess it's the way you hold yourself, whether you're going good or whether you're going bad," said a nonchalant Keary of the added pressure that comes with expectation.
"You carry yourself the same way whether you're on top or not going so well and I think that's the values that your parents bring you up with.
"There were a couple of areas I really wanted to improve on [in pre-season]. I want to improve my defence this year, obviously my running game and my combinations with Adam, Issac [Luke] and Greg [Inglis]. I didn't get that many games last year so I really want to train hard with those boys and get some game-time with that combination.
"I only played 11 games last year so in my mind I don't think I've achieved anything at all in the game.
"Yeah I won a grand final but a lot of people have done that and I want to improve my game a lot more.
"Hopefully I'm only at the bottom of my ability and I haven't achieved anything yet."