A year playing under Ivan Clearly has done Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks the world of good.Luke Brooks’ marked improvement in defence highlights just how much his confidence has grown under Wests Tigers coach Ivan Cleary in the past year.
Tuesday marks exactly 12 months since Cleary was signed by the then-embattled club, marking a significant turnaround in their plight as they climbed into the NRL’s top four on Monday.
Few players have responded to Cleary better than Brooks, who was the only member of the so-called big four to re-sign with the Tigers last year.
Regularly compared to eighth Immortal Andrew Johns early in his career, the 23-year-old was falling short of his potential long before Cleary’s arrival.
But with a clear ownership over the Tigers’ team and Benji Marshall alongside him, Brooks has enjoyed his best start to a season since his debut in 2013.
“He’s got a bit more confidence in his game,” Cleary said.
“He’s definitely fitter and stronger which helps the style of of player he is. His physique and speed is an asset he hasn’t used to his full potential.
“It was good to see that on show (against Parramatta), when he doesn’t worry about the number on his back. When he does that today he will be at his best.”
Brooks was particularly impressive in the Tigers’ 30-20 win over Parramatta on Monday, making 89 metres in six runs as he took the line on and loomed in support play.
His kicking too was on point, booting a 40-20 and forcing a line dropout.
But more telling than anything has been his defence this year.
Once regarded as one of the least reliable defenders in the game when he averaged five misses a game in 2014, he has worked that down to a career low two this year with the Tigers conceding just six tries in the opening four rounds.
He even produced a shot on the far bigger Tony Williams to leave him hurting on Monday late, despite the former NSW wrecking ball coming at him full throttle.
“There’s a bit of a correlation there,” Cleary said.
“Last year Tony Williams played for the Sharks and just before he got injured he had a good night against us at Leichhardt.
“It was the same thing, running at Luke. And if you watch the difference today as opposed to that game, he’s got a lot more confidence in him.”
“He’s definitely defending well. He and Chris (Lawrence) have got a good little combo on that left edge. Like any player if you can defend well it’s going to give you a lot of confidence.”