NEW Zealand coach Michael Maguire had 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 decided 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 Saturday’s Test between the Kiwis and Kangaroos at Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium.
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“I’ve got a lot of respect for Luke, but I’d actually like to talk about my players. I’ve got a fair few decent players that I’d like to talk about,” he said.
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,” he 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 five-eighth James Maloney while Michael Morgan will be eyeing returning to his best after an injury-interrupted 2018.
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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.”