Brooks replacement still a mystery
The Wests Tigers will head into their match against the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon without Luke Brooks for the first time since Round 1, and it remains unclear as to who will replace the injured halfback for the Leichhardt Oval clash.
Brooks was ruled out for three to five weeks by the club on Sunday afternoon after scans revealed he had torn his PCL in the first half of the 23-8 win over Parramatta on Saturday night.
The 21-year-old had played every match this season since sitting out the opening round through suspension, and the mystery surrounding who will fill the void intensified after the Tigers' training session on Monday.
Robbie Farah was a notable absentee as he continues to recover from a calf injury, and appears unlikely to fight his way back into the side at halfback.
Back-rower Chris Lawrence filled in for Brooks on the weekend, and would appear to be the frontrunner to slot into the halves as a running five-eighth; a role he has fulfilled 10 times at NRL level.
Jack Littlejohn looms as another possibility after lining up at halfback in Round 1, but the 24-year-old hasn't played first grade since, while Jordan Rankin and Justin Hunt are also capable of playing in the halves.
Retiring veteran Dene Halatau assured media on Monday afternoon that he would not add to his ever-growing utility value by donning the No.7 jersey on the weekend.
He admitted the loss of Brooks would hurt the team, but was confident whoever was selected would handle the new role well.
"I'm not much of a halfback so I won't be putting my hand up to play there," Halatau said.
"Both our halves have been building and growing as players, so losing him is obviously a big loss for us, but we're confident that all the boys that are in the club know the structure and will be able to fill the role if they get called up."
Tim Grant was equally definitive in his response, telling media that coach Jason Taylor would pick "someone that can play halfback" as opposed to a prop like him.
"We've got a lot of guys at this club with a bit of utility value so there'll definitely be a few options there," Grant said.
"There are so many guys who can play there, and there's a whole heap of guys that won't be playing [there]; I'll be one of them. I think JT will look through the tapes and see what works best for us at the moment and pick who he thinks is suitable."
As much as it'll hurt not having their on-field general at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday, the Tigers can take solace in the form of five-eighth Mitchell Moses.
The 21-year-old has been in sublime touch, claiming back-to-back man-of-the-match awards against the Dragons and Eels in recent weeks.
"It'll definitely be a change, but in saying that, Mitch Moses is really hitting his straps," Grant said.
"When 'Brooksy' came off the field on the weekend he really stood up and ran the show. It gave Chris Lawrence the ability to play in the halves but also run like a back-rower as well.
"I think Mitch will do a great job this weekend and take the stress off whoever is there at halfback."
Teammate Kevin Naiqama – who plays outside of Moses on the right edge – was impressed with how the young half embraced the added pressure against the Eels, and was confident that sort of form would continue against the Cowboys.
"He got told at half-time that he was going to have to take over and step up, and I think he did a great job in leading us around and to victory in the second half," Naiqama said.
"It's a bit more responsibility on him. He likes it. He did it in Round 1 when Brooksy missed that first round. When the job is asked of him, he definitely turns up and creates a lot of opportunities."
Halatau said it was disappointing to break up the halves pairing given how well they've gelled in recent weeks, but echoed his teammates' praise of Moses's constantly-evolving game.
"I think they balance each other," he said when asked about their combination.
"Mitch has been great. His form just keeps getting better and better, but I think he's able to do that because Brooksy takes some of that pressure off. In saying that, I've got no doubt that Mitchell can handle more of a responsibility."