Kent: Cronk puts Keary in the spotlight
The early move for revelation of the year, in a competitive field, might be Cooper Cronk's strained hamstring.
Cronk's hamstring grabbed a little Saturday afternoon and so he missed the game against Manly.
In his absence was unveiled the full talents of Luke Keary.
Keary is a fair share of ball away from establishing himself as the game's dominant playmaker.
He must be a better than even money chance of forcing his way into the NSW team this season. He deserves a shot, the question being whether Brad Fittler dares change a winning squad.
Loyalty counts, as Fittler will no doubt speak to, but what if a man's time has come?
Keary, 27, dominated the Sea Eagles.
He finished with four try assists and teased and taunted the Manly defence enough that they were out of the contest by halftime. He had them going left when they should have been going right. Looking long and playing short.
It confirmed everything the Roosters and the wider rugby league world saw in last year's grand final.
It presents coach Trent Robinson with a delicate balancing act.
Robinson has done a superb job managing the Roosters playing roster. Players have moved along at the right time and the men brought in to replace them have been first class.
Cronk's recruitment last season was a masterstroke even though it caused pain and the loss of Mitchell Pearce.
The Roosters made no apologies. The recruitment declared their intent that they were about winning premierships, not competing for them.
Cronk's arrival not only helped them to their title, it improved Keary.
Robinson's job is to continue Keary's improvement while managing Cronk's farewell.
Only ego can bring them down. If so, they might be OK.
The Roosters have handled last season's success with a modesty bordering on annoying. Any request to discover the truth behind the success politely ends with a suggestion to look elsewhere.
Keary is a player without ego. The negative kind, anyway. He is a knockabout with a touch of good-hearted mischief in his eye.
Cronk is a different character. Yet one of his great strengths was his ability to control his own ego in a team where it was fighting for position.
Keary revealed as much last year when Robinson subtly adjusted the Roosters playing style to adapt to the difference styles of Cronk and Pearce, their former playmaker.
Pearce is a natural footballer. Cronk is self-made. Pearce has the better skills. Cronk the better mindset.
Keary was born with more natural talent than Cronk and more ability to play under pressure than Pearce.
The Roosters adjusted and Keary excelled.
Keary is now ready to take over the team when Cronk retires.
We thought it as only a glimpse in last year's grand final when Cronk, his shoulder blade cracked in two, was unable to do anything even resembling taking the ball to the line and so duties were handed to Keary.
He famously declared, remember, he didn't care of Cronk played or not.
Enough adjectives have since been slayed describing Cronk's performance. Cronk was forced to step back and play a traffic cop role. Few could have come up with a performance like he did.
All worthy, but the Roosters don't win the title without Keary.
In the plaudits for both, many have missed the subtlety of their performance.
Unable to take the ball to the line Cronk was forced to give Keary early ball and Keary responded. Keary took a greater share of ball, taking 71 possessions in the game to Cronk's 18.
In the Roosters' season opener Cronk restored natural order, taking 40 possessions to Keary's 34 in the loss to South Sydney. Most of the ball went down Cronk's side.
With no Cronk against the Sea Eagles, Keary switched sides and dominated possession with 47 touches compared to Latrell Mitchell's 18, playing five-eighth.
The Roosters are a first class organisation.
They moved Blake Ferguson on over the off-season when they were unable to come up with an offer that went anywhere near matching the deal Parramatta put to Ferguson.
Like Ferguson, Brett Morris, Shaun Johnson, David Klemmer, they have all boosted their team's fortunes with their arrivals and created considerable chatter around the game.
After just two rounds Ferguson has already shown what an asset he will be for the Eels and leads the field in off-season moves.
But Cronk's dodgy hammy, and what it revealed, might be worth a notable mention.