Keary to risk it all for the game he loves
SYDNEY Roosters star Luke Keary has opened up about the concussion battles that left him "concerned and cautious" but he is refusing to contemplate premature retirement.
Keary, 28, said most of the head knocks he'd copped had been "accidental" and if he wasn't prepared to accept they were part of the game, "I shouldn't be playing".
Speaking exclusively to The Daily Telegraph at the Kayo Sports NRL shoot, Keary also discussed Cooper Cronk, State or Origin, Kyle Flanagan, Michael Cheika, the World Club Challenge and the Roosters' chances of a rare three-peat.
The Roosters' five-eighth has altered his defensive technique to avoid further head knocks after five concussions in the past two years. He sat out eight games last year because of one.
"It's weird because it's concerning how many times," Keary said, "but it doesn't play on my mind.
"I've gone through all of them with professionals and none of them have been light ones where I shouldn't have been knocked out. They have all been big ones.
"Most of them haven't been my fault, they have been accidental head knocks, which are going to happen in our game.
"If I don't want that well then I shouldn't be playing. I understand it's a part of our game and it's always going to be.
"It's not good, it's not pretty and we don't want it to be, but it is a contact sport and it's going to happen.
"But after the process I went through last year, I am very confident. The people looking after me, and everyone else, all the other players, they know what they are talking about, so if there is concern there they will let you know pretty quickly.
"I don't feel it has affected me at all. I have gone to a few different specialists. I had to tick everything off and make sure everything is OK if you have that many in a row.
"They give you a baseline with where you're at compared with other people your age who don't play footy.
"There was a technical aspect I went through with the coaches - where I was sticking my head.
"A couple of other doctors went through the force of them (the hits). They get pretty concerned if you're getting just tapped and knocked out, but all my have been real heavy blows that would probably knock most people out - which isn't such a bad thing, you know what I'm trying to say.
"The NRL and the club did everything possible to make sure I was healthy and OK to come back to play.
"I was really comfortable, That's why I feel real good about it now. I now I have done everything possible and I know how to look after myself now and in the future."
Keary suggests other underlying factors have contributed to his concussions.
"There is a lifestyle thing, too, how you live your life,'' he said. "You can finish the game and say head knocks have caused it, but there are lifestyle factors that come into it.
"It's hard to say it, because I don't want to say it is wrong. But I think just as important as the head knocks that affect you, there are hereditary factors, lifestyle factors, drugs, alcohol and diet and then there's the contact stuff. It's not just head knocks.
"I'm fine now. That eight weeks last year was a reset for me. I didn't have another one through the year.
"I've got my own situation but if a head knock happened tomorrow I would go through the same protocols as anyone else.
"I know the club will be a bit more cautious with me, and I would be myself. But I'm going outside the realm until something happens, if something happens."
His mentor and mate Cooper Cronk has retired and Keary is now the man.
"I learnt more in the last two years than I have in my first 20 years of living, on the field and off the field,'' he said. "You soak all that in and I feel I have grown so much from that.
"He's not there now - well he is once a week - but I've grown as a person. I know I have but you can't have somewhere there holding your hand the whole time.
"I will be the first person to admit that Cooper has been one of the biggest influences on my career and he will be until the end, but that doesn't mean I need him standing next to me telling me what to do.
"If I ever need anything from him, or want anything from him, he is a phone call away. It's good to know you've got someone like that.
"It's weird. I was speaking to him the other day and he asked me if I felt any different. I said 'not really'.
"We all know exactly what we're doing, every person in our team. Whether he's there or not, it doesn't change what I do or have to do. I don't feel like I have to do anything more or less."
THE NEW KID
Keary is ready to mentor his new halves partner, Kyle Flanagan.
"I keep having to remind myself he has only played nine games,'' Keary said.
"He has what you want in your seven - that level-headed player who makes everyone feel a bit better, makes everyone feel more comfortable.
"He doesn't really go up or down. Nothing is too big for him and nothing is too easy. He is just that calming influence for a kid who has played nine games.
"It boggles the mind. Kyle has everything he needs to be successful. Now it's up to him.
"Having the young kid there, you're not just going to throw him to the wolves. You put an arm around him. He is going to be more than capable of doing his role and doing it at a pretty high level.
"Like any halves combination, you both have to be on the same page, you've got to be connected. You've got to know each other and know what each other wants to do and how you're going to do it.
"If you want to be a successful halves combination, it's not just about rolling up and playing and trying to lean on each. It's about getting deeper into life and footy and then you get a real connection."
The heavy concussion against Newcastle last year robbed Keary of certain selection in the ultimately triumphant NSW side.
"It was a funny one last year," he said. "I actually didn't think about it too much before but then had the head knock and a month or two off, so I then kind of thought about what could have been if I got picked.
"It was disappointing because it is something that I really want to do. I really want to get into that arena and perform. But everything happens for a reason.
"If I do get an opportunity one day, it would be special, especially because of the path I have had to take."
The Roosters went back-to-back last year but surely three in a row is a mountain too steep to climb?
"It's definitely possible," Keary said. "We didn't think about doing it again last year.
"We always talk about creating your own path and never try and recreate, or get the same feelings, as before.
"Nothing will ever be the same if you try and do it again. It's that individual journey you go on. I have learned a lot about enjoying the journey rather than worry about what's at the end of it.
"There are a lot of things that go into it - a bit of luck, injuries, form. You just have to give yourself the best chance and then, in the end, whatever happens, happens."
CHECK OUT CHEIKA
Former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika has been assisting with the Roosters' pre-season training program and there have been immediate results.
"Cheik has been awesome," Keary said. "He is in there once or twice a week and he brings a different opinion to us.
"He was at the highest level in rugby union and there are a couple of things he brings across skill wise - catching, passing.
"It's just good to hear from different people and a different perspective, especially from outside our game. He is some fresh air for us."
BRING ON SAINTS
Can the Roosters topple St Helens in the World Club Challenge in England on February 22?
"Mate, I am so excited, I can't wait to play,'' Keary said. "It is very important to us. We're not just representing us but our competition and our country.
"We are going there for one reason. It's cool we get to go away together and we won't be forgetting why we are there."
LIVE stream St Helens v Sydney Roosters in the World Club Challenge on KAYO. New to Kayo? Get your 14-day free trial & start streaming instantly >