Keary a fitting NSW debutant for Fittler

Scott Bailey
·3-min read

Brad Fittler has seen and heard enough of Luke Keary to know he is a true Blues player and declared there is no more deserving owner of a maiden NSW jersey.

Keary will put four years of being tantalising close to a State of Origin debut behind him when he runs out in the No.6 jersey in Wednesday night's series opener.

But it hasn't come without controversy.

As late as Tuesday, Queensland coach Wayne Bennett was still questioning the eligibility rules that have allowed Keary to play for NSW, arguing they have always been a "shemozzle".

Born in Queensland, Keary moved to NSW at age eight but still attended an emerging Maroons camp.

The five-eighth at one stage requested a meeting with Todd Greenberg to clarify his status, before publicly stating in 2017 he wanted to play for the Blues.

In camp this week, Fittler said Keary had been as passionate as any about the Blues jumper.

"It was just a great chat to hear his side and the truth of when he moved and how he feels about State of Origin," Fittler said.

"I don't think anyone understood (his story). He moved as a young kid, but his parents are Queenslanders.

"They go for Queensland and he does still have relatives there.

"But he's been in NSW for a lot longer than he was up in Queensland.

"He's incredibly committed."

Fittler has no issues with the eligibility rules, which were refined after the defections of Greg Inglis and Israel Folau to Queensland in the 2000s.

Under the conditions, eligibility is largely determined based on where players played and spent the majority of their childhood from age six to 18.

Regardless, Keary's debut is a fitting reward.

He first entered Origin calculations in 2017 but was overlooked by coach Laurie Daley.

The Sydney Roosters half was again unlucky to miss out in 2018 when Nathan Cleary returned from a knee injury, but Keary still spent time in the NSW camp.

In 2019 he looked a certainty to be picked after winning the previous year's Clive Churchill Medal, only to have a concussion curtail his chances.

Even this year there were questions over his selection, with Cody Walker's red-hot form at the end of the year suddenly creating some late competition.

"Without a doubt if anyone deserves a run it's him... He now gets a chance and has been incredibly impressive," Fittler said of Keary.

"He handles training at high levels and just knows how to concentrate under pressure.

"He has won three grand finals and played for Australia.

"I just can't wait for him to get out there."

Keary's combination with Cleary will be crucial for NSW at the Adelaide Oval, with James Tedesco getting through Tuesday's final session without issue on his knee.

Fittler's squad was trimmed to 19 on Tuesday evening with Cameron McInnes and Reagan Campbell-Gillard missing out while the 17-man team for Game I will be finalised an hour before kick-off.

The Blues fly to Adelaide on Wednesday morning for the first Origin match in the South Australian capital.