Nobody encapsulates the benefits and pitfalls of being an NRL player better than Luke Brooks.
He has been lucky in many respects throughout his career to have been well rewarded financially but unlucky to have been criticised so heavily during his time at the Wests Tigers.
Brooks has been the lightning rod for the ongoing anguish of Tigers fans and a large percentage of it has not been his fault.
When he made his debut in 2013 at the SCG, he walked into a team desperate for a saviour.
Benji Marshall was no longer the face of the franchise, the last ageing remnants of the 2005 premiership-winning squad were being eradicated.
He had a debut to remember late in the season as the Tigers downed the Dragons in their Magpies throwback jerseys.
But he couldn’t play again that season as he was only in the team as a one-week salary cap exemption, couldn’t keep making the mistakes that rookie playmakers rack up as they try to find their feet at NRL level.
By not playing until the start of the next season the expectations on Brooks grew. If the little No.7 could play that well in his first outing with the big boys then surely he was going to do it again and again.
But it’s hard making a fist of the NRL as a halfback. Very few of them can excel consistently in their first 20-40 games.
Freaks like Andrew Johns can look at home but even the eighth Immortal went through growing pains at the Knights in the mid 1990s before steering Newcastle to their first premiership.
Wests Tigers fullback Daine Laurie and halfback Luke Brooks have both claimed the club’s Kelly-Barnes Medal for the 2021 NRL Player of the Year Award! ???????? pic.twitter.com/ESOOMjGzt9
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) October 5, 2021
Brooks also experienced the double edge sword that is rugby league when he was one of four Tigers off contract at the same time who were all represented by manager Isaac Moses.
The other three left and even though Brooks stayed loyal to the club, he was chastised by the frustrated Tigers faithful for being overpaid.
Again it’s not his fault that the club allowed itself to be put in a compromising position in which it could be squeezed for dollars.
The club has earned an unwanted mantle for paying overs – whether knowingly or not – to retain and recruit talent. And even when the Tigers have offered massive coin to high-profile free agents like Latrell Mitchell, Josh Addo-Carr and Jai Arrow, it hasn’t been enough to get these young lions signing on the dotted line at TigerTown.
Even when Brooks produced his best season in 2019, picking up Dally M halfback of the year honours along the way ahead of the likes of Daly Cherry-Evans, Cooper Cronk, Nathan Cleary and Adam Reynolds, it wasn’t enough to break the Tigers’ playoff drought.
Again it was not his fault that the rest of the roster was littered with young talent that lacked the punch needed to cement a finals berth or older players who’d seen better days.
The past two years have been a constant struggle for Brooks.
Now he’s heading into the final year of his contract and unless he recaptures his best form, he is likely to end up copping a drastic salary haircut like Anthony Milford and Ash Taylor have in recent times.
A lot of people have suggested he needs a change of scenery and that a switch to Newcastle could very well be the best thing to rejuvenate his career. Perhaps, anything is worth a try.
Whether they’ll concede the point publicly or not is irrelevant but the Tigers are entering a rebuilding phase. Their bitter fans might suggest they’ve been doing so constantly for more than a decade now.
But they need to focus on constructing a roster around Daine Laurie, Stefano Utoikamanu, Shawn Blore and Adam Doueihi when he returns from ACL surgery.
When that strategy starts to yield results then they might finally attract top-level talent in the prime of their careers.
If they keep looking for quick-fix recruits they will keep ending up with cast-offs that other clubs are happy to let go or having to overpay, which will cause the same cycle to repeat over and over again.