Brooks' transformation: It doesn't even feel like a game
Luke Brooks embodies the changes that have taken place at the Wests Tigers in the off-season.
Like his football team, he’s struggled to transform undoubted talent into realised potential in recent years, but perhaps has turned the corner under the guidance of Ivan Cleary and through the confidence of being around Benji Marshall and Josh Reynolds.
The 23-year-old looks like a different footballer, no longer burdened by the doubts that have hampered his development since bursting on to the scene as a teenager.
“I don’t really feel like we’re playing,” Brooks said after the convincing 30-20 Easter Monday victory over the Parramatta Eels.
It’s quite a stunning admission for a player who has often played with the stress and pressure of the world on his shoulders, such has been the hype around him from an early age.
"Usually, the day before you get nervous or the day of the game you get nervous, it’s a weird feeling at the moment it doesn’t actually feel like we have a game. I don’t know how to explain it," Brooks said.
"That takes the pressure off, that I’m not thinking about the game too much and I’m just going out there and enjoying it."
Cleary has shown a lot of faith in Brooks. Not only in re-signing him last year when there was so much uncertainty around the club's high-profile players, but also in allowing him to take control of a team he had previously shared with Mitchell Moses.
Cleary has noticed the changes in Brooks. Not a change in his personality, but a change in his approach to the game that is the result of relaxed mindset from genuine faith being instilled in him.
"He's got a little more confidence in his game," Cleary said.
"He's definitely fitter and stronger, which I think helps the style of player he is. I think his physique and speed is an asset which he probably hasn't used to its full potential and maybe still hasn't.
"It's good to see that on show again. He wasn't so much worried about the number on his back, he just played. I think when he's doing that, it's when he will be at his best."
The Tigers have won three of their first four games. While they didn’t find their attacking mojo until Monday’s win over the Eels, Brooks has shown a willingness to challenge the line that has rarely been seen.
There’s a spring to his step, reaping the benefits of a shift in attitude at the club over the off-season.
"I’m getting excited, not just to attack but to defend as well and I guess backing myself. Ivan gives, not just me, I think everyone the confidence to back ourselves so I think that helps a lot. [Benji] has taken a lot of pressure off me, I think just with the kicking game and me not having to kick all the time, there’s two options there.
"He’s obviously a different player to what he was when he was younger. I think he’s come over a more mature player and experienced and sort of learnt that game management side of things, learnt how to shut out a game so that’s certainly helped me."
Brooks has never played finals football. While Cleary refused to even talk about the potential of the club breaking its finals drought, there is an excitement among fans that hasn't been seen in years.
"As a kid you dream about winning a grand final and right now that’s what I want to do," Brooks said.
"To be able to do that you’ve got to play finals footy and hopefully we can do that this year."