Before rookie Luke Brooks had even played an NRL game in 2013, future Immortal Andrew Johns was singing his praises as one of the best young prospects in the sport.
Eventually, in round 24 of the season, the little local junior ran out for his debut at the Sydney Cricket Ground against the St George Illawarra Dragons.
The Saints weren’t long off their 2010 triumph.
Wests Tigers were still very much running off the fumes of 2005 and many lost years that followed.
In commentary, Fox Sports’ Warren Smith and Greg Alexander were all over him as the teams walked out onto the hallowed turf side-by-side.
The legendary Magpie Arthur Summons presented him with his maiden jersey inside the SCG before kick-off.
Brooks and his side shot out to a 22-6 half-time lead and ran out comfortable 34-18 victors in the end with Brooks getting a try and orchestrating most of everything else.
Veterans Benji Marshall and Braith Anasta happily watched on as bit players in the result.
The media frenzy was already in full motion by the time Brooks and his teammates had had their showers and on the way home.
There’s so many questions and sliding doors around Luke Brooks and things he could and couldn’t control.
Like his player agent holding the club to ransom. This obviously wasn’t his fault. After all, said player agent also had clients James Tedesco, Aaron Woods and Mitchell Moses on his books at the time.
It wasn’t Brooks’ fault the other three packed their bags for more money elsewhere.
If anything, Brooks was left on the grenade.
He’s been laying on that grenade for the side ever since.
Seasons have come and gone and Wests Tigers have hobbled from one excuse to the next.
Brooks has been steady if nothing else.
Whether Wests Tigers supporters like to admit it or not, most still hold the high expectations of an era that boasted Scott Prince and Benji Marshall.
In their eyes, Brooks was meant to be the next poster boy to drag them into a new era of flashy tries, no-look passes and banana kicks.
A fact in Brooks’ defense is that he was never meant to be Prince or Marshall or even Robbie Farah. Another fact is, that maybe, just maybe, the club’s roster management let him down and he hasn’t had the guys around him to let him play his own game and do it without the media scrutiny that still sits over his head.
It’s easy to pick on Brooks when the side hasn’t made a finals series in so many seasons. The simple truth is that Wests Tigers haven’t had a finals roster for a long time.
You can trawl through Google for hours clicking on stories from yesteryear about Brooks and how journalists have weaved their tales, that it’s finally, finally, “Luke Brooks’ time”.
But how much was it Brooks looking for a headline or the media trying to spin a good yarn? How much was it Brooks or how much was it the quiet, respectful playmaker just doing whatever he could to get through an interview?
In 2014 pre-season, The Daily Telegraph ran with the headline: ‘Teenager Luke Brooks is ready to step in to Benji Marshall’s shoes”.
Nobody is ever filling Benji’s shoes except Benji.
Just like nobody will ever be Laurie Daley, Terry Lamb or Stacey Jones.
March 2015 and The Sydney Morning Herald opens a story with, “Together, Mitchell Moses, Luke Brooks and James Tedesco will carry the hopes of the Wests Tigers for the next decade..”.
Weeks earlier, according to the media, Wests Tigers were in for a ‘bumper season’ with 20-year-old Brooks leading the team. Wests Tigers came 15th. It was still Farah’s side.
And so it went.
All the while, the club wrestled with internal politics.
Marshall left. Came back. Farah was pushed out to allow Brooks and others to lead them into the future. Farah came back.
Yes, Brooks won the club’s ‘Player of the Year’ in both 2018 and 2019 but by then – how much fire power did he have around him?
It goes back to the quality of the roster.
Wests Tigers, shockingly, finished 9th in both those seasons.
The funny thing about the resentment of some fans about his talent or his leadership or his ability to take on a defensive line is – their own club regarded him as their best player in ’18 and ’19.
How much more in those years could Luke Brooks do?
Where were his teammates in matches that they lost?
Matches that would have gotten them into playoffs?
At the end of the day, Wests Tigers will probably just miss September again in 2021 and Brooks will cop most of the blame.
There is an argument that the little half hasn’t lived up to expectations.
The stronger argument is that the media and his club have done him no favours.