How Robinson's Roosters really lured Keary from arch-rival Rabbitohs
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How Robinson's Roosters really lured Keary from arch-rival Rabbitohs

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When Souths star Luke Keary went to market at the end of 2016, rival NRL clubs and the ARU baulked at his $700,000 a year asking price, believing it to be too expensive.

Trent Robinson did not. The Roosters coach saw a bargain. He signed Keary on a two-year deal.

Luke Keary is now the premier playmaker in the NRL.

Luke Keary is now the premier playmaker in the NRL.Credit:NRL Photos

Three years later, Keary had helped Robinson win his second and third premierships at the glamour club. Now, Keary is considered among the best players in the NRL.

On the eve of another showdown between rugby league's oldest rivals, more light can be shed on the machinations that delivered Keary to the Roosters – and helped set up a dynasty.

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Keary's reasoning for leaving the Rabbitohs has been well publicised.

He fell out with Russell Crowe at the Hollywood superstar's Nana Glen property after the 2015 season when the Souths owner told Keary he "didn't earn his money last season".

While that played a part in his departure, Souths also didn't have the cash to make an adequate offer to the five-eighth.

When Shane Richardson returned to Souths before the 2016 season, the club's salary cap was a mess.

Sam Burgess had just secured his return from rugby union, his twin brothers had put pen to paper on hefty contract extensions well over market value and Greg Inglis was earning close to $1 million a season.

That left the Rabbitohs with less than $500,000 to offer Keary.

Souths sources with knowledge of the negotiation admit that wasn't an acceptable offer and were resigned to losing the five-eighth.

He’s 27, 28 now and I think you’ve seen the maturity in his game over the last couple of years.

Trent Robinson on Luke Keary

But while other organisations – including the Dragons, Storm and Rugby Australia – scoffed at Keary's asking price, the Roosters' brains trust jumped at the chance to sign a man Robinson deemed the perfect halves partner for Mitchell Pearce.

In Robinson and the Roosters' eyes, Keary's asking price was more than fair.

That price turned into one of the best contracts in the NRL.

Four years on, Keary is among the best playmakers in the competition. He signed a contract extension that took his salary towards the $900,000 mark two months ago.

If he went to market, the clubs previously baulking at his value would have happily paid north of seven figures.

With Cooper Cronk no longer in the frame, it's Keary's team to lead around the park.

On the eve of finals football, Robinson couldn't be happier with the man charged with steering his team to a third consecutive premiership.

"He’s getting older. He’s 27, 28 now and I think you’ve seen the maturity in his game over the last couple of years," Robinson said.

"It’s been very good for us to have a senior half. A very, very old half in Cooper Cronk. To see a guy that is a senior player and has lots of experience, to step that up this year, it’s a natural development.

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"He doesn’t have to force it. It’s in him. And that’s his role and he knew that was his role coming into this season.

"We’ve formed our team and we’re very confident in our team and where it's at.

"People come and go and [Cronk] was an amazing player for us. But that was last year. That’s not this year. That’s a very long time ago and we’re focused on the roles everybody here can assume."

Wayne Bennett had nothing to do with Souths when Keary walked away from the club but even he has admired the star playmaker from afar.

"I thought he was going good last year, I thought he was going good the year before that and I thought he was going good the year before that," Bennett said.

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