Continuity the key for Keary and Pearce
Stability in key positions goes a long way to ensuring success.
The Roosters found out the hard way in 2016 what it's like to chop and change your halves every second week, with the Tricolours finishing the year in 15th place after going through seven different halves pairings.
Fast forward 12 months and they're one win away from securing a spot in the grand final. Why? They've used three halves pairings this season, and if it hadn't been for State of Origin, they mightn't have changed it up at all.
Mitchell Pearce's eight-game ban to start the 2016 season saw Trent Robinson name inexperienced playmakers Jackson Hastings, Jayden Nikorima and Ryan Matterson in the halves, while dynamic utility Connor Watson was also thrust into the role later in the year.
It had them on the back foot from the outset and resulted in them claiming just six wins after they had ridden a wave of success on the back of three-straight minor premierships.
The temptation would have been to stick with a guy like Watson who had shown in the back half of the year that he was a more than handy option at five-eighth. Instead, they went to the open market and lured Luke Keary away from Redfern on a two-year deal.
It took a fortnight for the 2014 premiership-winner to show his class, scoring a double in Round 1 and setting up three tries the following week, and that form has continued all season long as Keary and Pearce have gelled nicely to take the Roosters from 15th all the way up to second on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
"Everyone knows how good of a player Mitchell Pearce is in our team – and he's a massive part of our team – but I think the addition of Luke Keary…he's been just as good as Mitchell Pearce this year," Roosters co-captain Boyd Cordner said.
"He's been one of our best players and our most consistent players, so to have that stability has really helped us.
"He's won a competition, he's been over there with a great team in South Sydney, and he's brought that over. He's been brilliant for this club."
After last year's struggles, the Roosters have used only three halves pairings in 2017 – mainly due to State of Origin commitments – but the one constant has been Keary who played all 24 regular season matches; something he'd never done at Souths.
Asked whether this has been his best season in first grade, Keary replied with an unequivocal "yes" and it's easy to see why with the speedy five-eighth scoring eight tries and creating 15 more in a dream year in the red, white and blue jersey.
The 25-year-old was a constant threat on both edges in the qualifying final win over the Broncos and credits the continuity in the spine and his partnership with Pearce for his side's rapid rise in 2017.
"He's a pretty easy player to get along with. I think from the first day I came in, if you've met him [you'd know] he's pretty easy going. He's really intelligent footy-wise so I clicked with him straightaway," Keary said of his halves partner.
"Mitch obviously missed a few games through Origin, but I've been able to stay on the park for the whole year which has been nice and pretty rare for me.
"We've been able to build our combination throughout the year – obviously during the Origin period it's pretty hard – but over the past month we've all been starting to get on the same page. Mick Gordon (pec) has come back in and Jake Friend has come back from his hand [injury] so it's all starting to click into place."
This article first appeared on NRL.COM