Brooks admits defeat in Blues selection battle
By Christian Nicolussi 21 May 2018 — 4:09pm
Luke Brooks has conceded defeat to rivals Nathan Cleary and James Maloney in the NSW halves race. Brooks was rated a big chance to win his first Blues jersey after an impressive start to the season with Wests Tigers. But after going head to head with Cleary and Maloney’s Panthers last Thursday night – and coming off second best – Brooks knows NSW’s immediate future is in good hands with that club pairing. Brooks’ housemate Mitchell Moses is also out of the race, while Sydney Roosters playmaker Luke Keary is now the only player who can ruin the Cleary-Maloney union.
The pair have one final audition to ram home their case at a packed Panthers Stadium on Saturday night in the top-of-the-table clash against St George Illawarra. “That’s the way they will go, Cleary had a good game in his return, Maloney has been there before, so that’s the combo I think they’ll go with,” Brooks told Fairfax Media. "They both have good game management, and in Origin that’s a big thing. They’re both good runners of the ball and they work well together.
"You couldn’t tell he [Cleary] had been out for eight weeks. He’s a quality player.’’ The Wests Tigers No.7 tried hard in a losing side last week and at only 23 is bound to pull on the NSW jersey in future years. He has not had any conversations with coach Brad Fittler, but his early form, especially his running sand improved defence, has been impossible to ignore.
For now, Brooks is happy to talk up his rival Penrith halves to end the Maroon dynasty. His immediate focus is stopping Canterbury at ANZ Stadium in a match full of mouth-watering sub-plots. Josh Reynolds will return from injury against his old club, Benji Marshall takes on his younger brother Jeremy Marshall-King, and Aaron Woods is sure to be jeered by fans in his first match against his former club. “As we saw with Teddy [James Tedesco] in the Roosters game this year, the fans got into him, and Woodsy will probably cop the same,” Brooks said with a grin. "The fans don’t forget. "He’ll cop some. Hopefully it puts him off his game. "‘Grubby’ [Reynolds] is ready to go against his old club, and it’s weird how it’s worked out that he comes back against them.
"He hasn’t said anything. Benji hasn’t said anything either about playing [against his brother]. "He’s playing some good footy at the Dogs, he’s quieter than Benji – Benji is more out there – but he’s a good bloke, and tough as well. He can actually put on a hit, so Benji won’t be running straight at him.’’ Canterbury will be boosted by news Josh Morris was cleared of a ruptured ACL. The off-contract international centre will consult a specialist on Tuesday to find out the full extent of his knee injury. Brooks said co-captain Russell Packer had been nothing short of outstanding since coming to the club and replacing Woods in the front row. "His carries are really good, and it’s not just his leadership on the field but off it as well,’’ Brooks said. "He’s got a big voice and he’s a great player. We missed him when he was out injured [earlier this year], and saw what he could do when he came back against the Cowboys.’’