Father-son Cleary reunion will have to wait with Brooks firing for Tigers
By Christian Nicolussi17 April 2018 — 8:00pm
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The father-son Cleary reunion might have to wait a little longer given the rise and rise of Luke Brooks in the Wests Tigers No. 7 jersey. Brooks was entitled to think the worst when Penrith’s star halfback Nathan Cleary and his father, Tigers coach Ivan Cleary, spoke about their hopes of one day being at the same NRL club. Penrith are desperate for Nathan to stay put beyond 2019, and the longer he delays any decision only adds to the Tigers speculation. Nobody, however, anticipated Brooks to burst out of the blocks like he has, even to the point his teammates chanted ‘‘NSW, NSW’’ as he walked off Brookvale Oval last Sunday after another dynamite effort.
The 23-year-old playmaker, who is three years older than Nathan, told Fairfax Media on Tuesday Ivan had made a point on two separate occasions to assure him he had his backing. "It’s always going to be talked about because it’s his son, and it’s something I can’t control,’’ Brooks said. "Obviously Nathan wants to play under him, and he wants to coach Nathan, and if that happens one day it will happen. "It came up last year, then it came up again before the start of pre-season. Ivan actually brought me in and told me not to worry about that stuff, and said he’s got all the confidence in me. That only helped me. "It was good of him to let me know what his plans were.’’
The Tigers’ faithful could only dream of the possible halves pairing of Brooks, a left-footer, and right-footed Cleary from 2020. Ivan’s faith in Brooks allowed him to embrace his running game and find the sort of form that has now seen him talked up as a NSW bolter. Brooks is a big reason the Tigers have amazingly won five of their first six games, and will look to stretch that record against Mitchell Pearce and Newcastle on Saturday. "When Ivan first came here he always told me to back myself,’’ Brooks said. "As a team, we have a structure to fall back on, but he says if we see something, take it. That sort of play suits my style and the team’s style of play. That’s why we’re playing well.
"Running was definitely a strength when I was younger. "But when I first came into first grade, I went away from that. I’m not too sure why. As a half, you’re worried about putting other people through holes and setting up tries. "When you run, other stuff opens up anyway.’’ Benji Marshall has been Brooks’ halves partner early in the season, and will remain so after Josh Reynolds was ruled out for a month with a shoulder injury on Tuesday. Marshall, who Brooks has praised for lightening the mood around the Tigers, said he faced problems similar to those the young No. 7 now confronts, with putting the team before his natural game a learning experience. "People forget he’s 23, and the pressure of thinking you have to run the team, and worry about organising teams, I’ve been through it, and you forget about your strengths,’’ Marshall said.
"To see him go back to his running, that’s his strength, and he’s now doing all the other things without realising it.
"People don’t realise how quick and strong he is. I’m his weights partner. I’ve lifted his game. But he does train hard.
"We’re happy to see Brooksy playing so well. It’s infectious. When he carries the ball, it rubs off on the team.
"The fact people are talking about him for Origin is great for his confidence and reward for how well he has been playing.’’
Marshall was one of the Tigers who started the "NSW, NSW’’ chant after the blowout win over Manly. He was yelling it on Tuesday while a huge press pack interviewed Brooks. Brooks later said it was a ‘‘stitch up’’, but was flattered by the talk of a representative call-up. The Tigers head to Tamworth for their home game against the Knights where a crowd of at least 10,000 is expected. Chris Lawrence has been named but is carrying a hamstring injury which forced him from the field late in the 38-12 victory.