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Criticism 'unhealthy and unwarranted': Tigers boss backs Brooks

Wests Tigers chairman Lee Hagipantelis has come to the defence of under-fire halfback Luke Brooks, declaring the criticism towards the side's No.7 playmaker is unhealthy and unwarranted.

Brooks, who celebrated his 150th game at the club in round two, has been linked to rivals in various media reports over the past fortnight after producing a mixed bag in the opening five weeks of the competition.

The 26-year-old leads the NRL Telstra Premiership in try assists this season but the fact the Tigers haven't played finals since 2011 is ammunition for Brooks' critics.

"There is a very unhealthy and unwarranted focus on Luke Brooks as a result of the difficulties the squad has encountered as a whole to start the season," Hagipantelis told NRL.com.

"I will not partake in that narrative whatsoever. He has my absolute faith and confidence that he's the man for the job.

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"I know there are a lot of pundits who say we may not be the right fit for him and he might not be the right fit for the Wests Tigers but I don't agree with that.

"He's a Wests Tigers junior and nothing would make me happier than to see him play at the ability he knows he has.

"We will provide him with every resource and every bit of support that he needs to be the best player he can be.

"People of his calibre have that skill set and you don't lose that. He might bounce up and down with self-confidence and we understand that but as far as the skill level, they don't lose that drive to succeed.

"I think there are many players who haven't performed as well as they could've. Luke has conceded it himself he wishes to improve and wants to play better. David Nofoaluma has made the same confession."

Last week's first-half showing at Leichhardt Oval was considered one of the darker performances in the club's history but Hagipantelis, while accepting the criticism, can see the light.

"I reached out to a couple of the boys privately and they were very upset by the result and the responses that came out of it from fans and members were fair enough," he said.

"I am treating last Sunday's game as an anomaly. It just seemed the boys were not in the right mindset in the first half and did not turn up. They expected the game to be much easier than it was.

"There was a lot of hurt in the room, as there should be. It was a fatal error in this competition but I have absolute faith and confidence in this playing roster.

"They're growing, they will learn from the game. When I speak of the playing group I speak of everyone involved in the club – the coaches, front office and board. We are all in this together."

Some long-suffering Wests Tigers supporters will argue they've heard it all before during the decade-long finals drought and a 1-4 start to 2021 is hardly cause for optimism.

NRL.com crunched the numbers, courtesy of Sportsbet, to determine how many times the joint venture have failed to deliver in games under Michael Maguire where they started as favourites.

According to the figures, the Tigers have won 11 of 18 games (61%) when going into a match as favourites since 2019.

In return, they've caused seven upsets in 31 games (25.5%) when considered outsiders.

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Given the Tigers only started favourites in 18 of 49 total matches (36.7%) – the figure, perhaps, is reflective of their finishes on the ladder.

"There is that narrative that we lose games we shouldn't and I acknowledge that, however, I would question what games you're expected to win," Hagipantelis said.

"There is no easy game in the NRL. Turning up to games expecting to win is a practice or a mindset that flaunts with danger.

"I will refer to those far more qualified than me to make decisions around the performances of the team but from a board's perceptive we look at it holistically.

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"We had close to our strongest team on the paddock last week, on a Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt with a full house and in a tribute match [to Tommy Raudonikis].

"So every box was ticked but the result did not reflect that.

"The fact the Cowboys had not won a game leading into it was entirely irrelevant. They should've been paid due respect as an opposing NRL team that was more than capable of winning the game."

The Tigers will go into Saturday's against South Sydney at long odds but Hagipantelis hoped some pride would at least be restored after a promising second half.

"I think the squad is bristling with talent and potential but have just not hit their straps and that was always going to take a bit of time," he said.

"Michael Maguire is a fine coach who has our backing, he is building the team he desires and as a board, we are confident in his process."

The Tigers have two spots remaining on their 2021 roster and Maguire has made no secret of the fact he's after high-quality players who will add value at Concord.

The club narrowly missed the services of Josh Addo-Carr and Cameron McInnes, while they've been linked to Storm hooker Brandon Smith.

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"Last year we identified two areas we needed to improve in with recruitment – leadership and speed," Hagipantelis said.

"So we brought in James Tamou and Joe Ofahengaue, who are very experienced. As far as speed goes, Jimmy Roberts is good for that and Daine Laurie is also another who we identified and has been excellent.

"We have two more spots this year with plenty of time to fill those positions. Then for next year, we will target another area. We have cap space where we think we can add very nicely to our roster in the next year or two.

"People talk about the past but I know those in charge before were acting in the best interests of the Wests Tigers. There is no malice or failure in terms of the intention of those who made decisions.

"I accept in hindsight some errors have been made but hindsight is a wonderful thing. We need to live in the now and project into the future."