Keeley adds piece to Dolphins back-row selection puzzle

Joel Gould |

Dolphins back-rower Oryn Keeley (right) is an emerging contender in a hotly contested position.
Dolphins back-rower Oryn Keeley (right) is an emerging contender in a hotly contested position.

The Dolphins have a quartet of NRL-hardened back-rowers vying for two starting spots and former Newcastle forward Oryn Keeley is a new addition to the list.

The 21-year-old has signed a three-year deal with the Dolphins after playing two NRL games for the Knights and has Connelly Lemuelu, Euan Aitken and former Melbourne premiership winners Felise Kaufusi and Kenny Bromwich ahead of him. 

Keeley will play his first trial game for the Dolphins on Saturday when he starts in the second-row against CQ Capras in Rockhampton.

At full strength the Dolphins are going to be forced to leave out several proven performers in the forwards, but last year they were rocked by suspension and injury and their depth dwindled.

Oryn Keeley.
Oryn Keeley takes on the Cronulla defence during the 2023 Pre-Season Challenge for Newcastle. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

If the season goes pear-shaped again then Keeley, who has leadership qualities and a maturity beyond his years, must be ready to fire in the NRL cauldron.

“That is my goal,” Keeley said.

“I have written a couple of notes and one of them is, ‘be prepared to be told you are going to play’. That could be anywhere and it could be round 20, round eight or round two. I’ve just got to be ready.

“We have a great pack here and I just want to learn off them every day and lead with my actions.”

The esteem that Keeley is held in can be gauged by the length of his deal.

“I was pretty shocked. I was with my missus and I said, ‘my God, they have offered me three years’,” he said.

“I didn’t second guess. I said, ‘yes, I want to go’. I was a big fan of Wayne Bennett’s and I knew the boys here were a good group.”

Keeley’s personal Instagram tagline talks about being patient and trusting the journey, a philosophy that he embraces for good reason.

“That is what I have lived off,” he said.

“When I was 16 I fractured my neck and had a few injuries. I was out for two and a half years and went through a tough time. I knew if I was patient I would get there.”

Keeley said the camp with the NSW U19s State of Origin team in 2022 –  where he got a win over Queensland at Leichhardt Oval and learned off Blues legends on the coaching and support staff such as Mark O’Meley, Boyd Cordner, Andrew Ryan and Brett Morris – was “one of the best weeks of my life”. 

He’s surrounded by Maroons forwards at the Dolphins – including Kaufusi, Tom Flegler and Tom Gilbert – but won’t take a backward step.

“I am always into Fus’ (Kaufusi)  and Fleggy that I will be NSW until I die. I am never going to be a Queenslander. It is good banter,” he said.