But the five-eighth lasted just eight minutes when he was flattened by Knights prop Daniel Saifiti and did not appear conscious as Roosters medicos rushed to his side.
It was Keary’s second heavy concussion in the space of five weeks after being forced to cut short his night in the Good Friday epic against Melbourne.
Keary told the Herald upon his return that he was nervous for the first time in his playing career because he had suffered several worrying head knocks in the past 18 months.
“He’s average,” Roosters coach Trent Robinson said afterwards of Keary.
“I was talking to him in there [the sheds], so it’s not ‘bad bad’, he can move his neck alright and he’s talking fine and all of that, but he’s got the concussion.
“It’s usually a six-day protocol [to play again], that’s why a lot of the five-day ones don’t get there. We had it with Boyd [Cordner] turning around into Brisbane.
“It’s Friday night. If we played next Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday, if he passed the protocols he could play any game next weekend.
“The first thing is waking up in the morning and making sure he’s feeling good.”
Keary’s hopes of playing against Queensland on Wednesday week appear slim at best.
Robinson, however, was happy for him to still be picked rather than use the extra time to recover back in clubland.
“If he’s right I’d love him to play, and he deserves to play,” Robinson said.
“You can’t be selfish as a coach when it comes to Origin. You have to allow those guys to play. They get more fatigued and become better players. Any chance you get to have your players play Origin, you’ll drive them there if you have to.
“It does cost [you], but it makes them better.”
Blues coach Brad Fittler was on the sidelines for Nine and would have dreaded seeing his possible five-eighth assisted from the field. He was naturally concerned for his health and, after he checked on him at half-time, told TV viewers: ”He’s feeling a headache, put it that way.”
The debate about who should wear the No. 6 for NSW will now kick into overdrive before the team is officially named on Sunday evening. Cody Walker will be one name, while James Maloney partnering Nathan Cleary seems the safest and most logical.
Newcastle fans will be having their own arguments about whether their side can push hard for the title this year.
Pearce enjoyed the rare chance to shine in the Friday night time-slot against the club who virtually moved him on for Cronk.
He crashed over for a try right on half-time, then stood and punched his chest when a flat cut-out ball put Edrick Lee over in the corner late in the game.
Ponga’s try before half-time was another one for the highlights reel.
The Kiwi (OK, adopted Queensland) ace showed some electric footwork to get on the outside of Angus Crichton and then brush off former Knight Brock Lamb to score.
Rival clubs have done their best to smash Ponga late, and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves did just that midway through the second half and sparked a melee. The tackle was deemed legal, but Waerea-Hargreaves had more than 25,000 fans booing him for the remainder of the night.
Ponga left the field but appeared fine at full-time.
Knights coach Nathan Brown was a dead man walking not too long ago, and quipped: “We feel great, but it was only six weeks ago Mitch Pearce was wrong choice as captain, I couldn’t coach. Rugby league is an interesting game, you have to enjoy it and feel good about it, but not get carried away with it either.”
NEWCASTLE 38 (H Hunt E Lee M Pearce K Ponga C Watson tries K Ponga 7 M Barnett 2 goals) SYDNEY ROOSTERS 12 (S Taukeiaho J Tedesco tries L Mitchell 2 goals) at McDonald Jones Stadium. Referees: Ben Cummins, Peter Gough. Crowd: 25,929.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.