Ki­wis coach fends off Keary ten­sion claims

NT News - - SPORT - STEVE ZE­MEK

NEW Zealand coach Michael Maguire has fended off sug­ges­tions there is a rift be­tween him and Luke Keary as they get set to meet for the first time since the play­maker’s con­tro­ver­sial exit from South Syd­ney.

Keary was forced out of the Rab­bitohs at the end of 2016 af­ter his in­fa­mous pre-sea­son spat with owner Rus­sell Crowe and then coach Maguire de­cid­ing the club would in­vest in Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker.

Since then, Keary’s ca­reer has gone from strength to strength, with the 26-year-old re­ceiv­ing the Clive Churchill Medal af­ter the Syd­ney Roost­ers’ grand fi­nal win, be­fore earn­ing an Aus­tralian call-up once Cameron Mun­ster with­drew for per­sonal rea­sons.

When asked about Keary, Maguire said there was no lin­ger­ing ten­sion and added he was not in­clined to talk up an op­po­si­tion player ahead of to­day’s Test be­tween the Ki­wis and Kan­ga­roos at Auck­land’s Mt Smart Sta­dium.

“I’ve got a lot of re­spect for Luke, but I’d ac­tu­ally like to talk about my play­ers,” he said.

“I’ve got a fair few de­cent play­ers that I’d like to talk about.”

Maguire pre­ferred to dwell on his halves com­bi­na­tion, Shaun John­son and Kodi Niko­rima, re­veal­ing the duo had gelled nicely since ar­riv­ing in camp.

“We’ve come to­gether early in the week, we’ve spo­ken about what we want to be as a team ... Kodi and Shaun are keen to drive the team,” Maguire said.

Af­ter the rep­re­sen­ta­tive re­tire­ments of Johnathan Thurston and Cooper Cronk, the fight for the Aus­tralian halves spot ap­pears to be an open one.

Mean­while, Keary has an op­por­tu­nity to stake his claim to work along­side Daly Cherry-Evans in an area where the Kan­ga­roos are blessed with sev­eral op­tions.

Mun­ster is a proven rep per­former, as is NSW fiveeighth James Maloney, while Michael Mor­gan will be eye­ing re­turn­ing to his best af­ter an in­jury-in­ter­rupted 2018.

West Aus­tralian-born New­cas­tle sen­sa­tion Ka­lyn Ponga is also ex­pected to shift into the halves next year.

En­cour­ag­ingly for Keary, he has al­ready re­ceived the back­ing of eighth Im­mor­tal Andrew Johns who de­clared he should start for the Blues in next year’s State of Ori­gin se­ries.

Kan­ga­roos coach Mal Meninga was also ex­pect­ing a strong show­ing from Keary in Tests against the Ki­wis and Tonga.

“Luke has had such a won­der­ful year and he doesn’t want to leave it at the door. He’s been se­lected and wants to play re­ally well,” Meninga said.

MICHAEL MAGUIRE

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