Frederic Michalak – the silky French magician, who played at four World Cups and helped knock the All Blacks out of one in 2007 – is the Roosters’ secret weapon in 2021 and has been tasked with helping Luke Keary make the transition to halfback.
The French great, who played 77 Tests for Les Bleus in the playmaking position, has returned to the club after a brief coaching development stint at Moore Park in 2020.
But with COVID continuing to run rampant throughout Europe, Michalak decided to return to Sydney late last year where his wife, Cindy, is from.
He has spent the past five weeks working with the Tricolours since touching down ahead of Christmas and will remain at the club for much of the year.
And already the rugby great has won over his students.
“I haven’t asked him, but he’s got that head coach aura about him where he’s confident in himself, he knows what he’s talking about and he commands the respect of everyone around him,” Keary told foxsports.com.au.
He might not have played rugby league, but it’s a massive boost for the Roosters, who weren’t able to achieve a three-peat in 2020, to have someone of Michalak’s intellect and experience at the club.
“I reckon when they (guests) roll up (at training) it’s a bit novel. But he’s with us every day, full-time, and that’s when you see, OK, they’re stamping their authority on the team and you’re bouncing ideas and you can actually see the value,” Keary said.
“We’ve had a few people come in and you get to know them and it’s all good, but they’re not going to tell you what to do.
“It’s been good to have him every day, he’s part of the coaching staff.”
While Michalak has been working with the entire squad, finetuning the passing techniques of the forward and particularly the club’s hookers, it’s Keary that Michalak has spent the most time.
After years of playing second fiddle to halfbacks like Adam Reynolds and Cooper Cronk, the 29-year-old is now the main man pulling the strings.
So, who else better to learn from than Michalak, who spent years regularly playing in front of 80,000 people at the Stade de France?
“I remember watching him and (All Blacks playmaker) Carlos Spenser run around when I was a kid, so it’s pretty cool to have him here,” said Keary, who won’t just be pigeonholed to the left-side of the field in 2021 like previously.
“And he’s so smart. He obviously hasn’t played rugby league, but he’s so skilful. I can’t explain it. His skills are just so silky.
“It’s just been cool to bounce ideas off him and we’re doing a heap of kicking together – it made up 80 per cent of his game, his kicking – he’s just so skilful and he’s such a good dude. He’s learning too, but I’ve learned a lot.”
In particular, it’s Keary’s kicking game that Michalak has honed-in on.
“We do a lot of tactical stuff, so where are we on the field, what type of kicks can we do, what’s our first option, what’s our second, what’s one out of the box, and what type and time of game,” the three-time premiership winner said.
“Basically, it’s me and him sitting there and talking about footy.
“The field goal stuff too with him has been pretty cool. He obviously kicked a few, so he’s really helped me with that part of my game. It’s probably not something I’ve focused too much heavily on in the past few years.
“It’s just been interesting. He’s got a different philosophy from rugby league kickers, where we’re just kicking deep in the corner. It’s been cool to hear a different perspective.”
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The Roosters open their campaign against the Manly Sea Eagles at the SCG on Saturday, March 13.