Clear the Obstruction

Have the Tigers clouded our judgement of Luke Brooks?

Earlier this week the Wests Tigers announced that Luke Brooks has penned an extension to remain at the club until the end of 2023. The estimated worth of the extension is $800,000 per season and represents a significant long-term financial investment for a soon to be 24-year-old halfback whose best days are likely ahead of him. The announcement was well received, a club which is caught in a constant state of flux can formalise its commitment to stability through player retention, however a question remains – has this instability clouded our view of Luke Brooks the player?

Brooks earned the first-choice starting halfback role with the Wests Tigers in 2014, he will now enter this season with his 4th head coach in 6 years. In addition to the constant steam of coaching changes during Brooks’ tenure as their #7, the Tigers have endured two major front-office restructures, constant ownership speculation and have continued to haemorrhage talent to rival clubs. Robbie Farah, the clubs most senior player, was stripped of the captaincy, had a public feud with his coach, departed, and returned all in this space of time. Brooks’ young halves partner Mitchell Moses forced his way to Parramatta mid-season, Aaron Woods forced his way to Canterbury citing playing finals as the reasoning, and James Tedesco is a premiership winning fullback with the Sydney Roosters. The Tigers have had two constants throughout this period – Luke Brooks and losing.

Regular Season Wins 14′-18′

Melbourne 83
Brisbane 75
Sydney 73
Cronulla 67
North Queensland 67
Penrith 66
South Sydney 62
St George Illawarra 60
Canterbury 59
Canberra 56
Manly Warringah 56
Parramatta 56
Warriors 53
Wests Tigers 48
Gold Coast Titans 44
Newcastle 33

Since Brooks assumed the role of first-choice halfback the Tigers have won the 3rd fewest games behind the Titans and Knights and have yet to play in a final’s series. There are many reasons why teams win or lose, and we often unfairly hold the halfback responsible – to blame Brooks’ for the Tigers lack of wins would be foolish given his age and situation. That said, there are some interesting components to the Tigers play under Brooks’, more specifically the offence:

14’-18’ Regular Season Points Scored
Team Points Scored
Canberra 2852
Brisbane 2830
Melbourne 2735
Sydney 2691
North Queensland 2683
South Sydney 2569
Penrith 2489
Manly Warringah 2466
Warriors 2445
Cronulla 2378
St George Illawarra 2297
Canterbury 2262
Parramatta 2257
Gold Coast Titans 2239
Wests Tigers 2196
Newcastle 2068

With Brooks’ at the helm over the last 5 years the Tigers are the 2nd worse offensive team behind Newcastle. The consensus is that halfbacks have the biggest influence on the quality of attack, yet the Tigers have been anything but quality on this side of the ball with Luke Brooks. What’s more, when broken down per season their lack of improvement offensively is startling:

Tigers Offence 14’-18’
Year Points Scored NRL Rank
2014 420 14th
2015 487 6th
2016 499 10th
2017 413 15th
2018 377 15th

Over the last two seasons the Tigers offence has wildly under-performed comparatively to the rest of the NRL, with last year amounting to their worst offensive performance in recent history. The Tigers offence has ranked above average once with Brooks’, in 2015 in his age 21 season, and has declined every year since. The circus surrounding the Tigers throughout these years has at times times redirected attention away from their offensive failures, yet when viewed statistically it’s quite glaring. While it’s easy to give Brooks’ a pass for these performances, their lack of offensive success given his reputation is peculiar within the current landscape of shaming halves for every small misstep. Is it justified?

To truly demonstrate Brooks’ impact on the team we must assess his individual statistical output comparatively to other lead halves. While the team has generated limited offensive success it’s important to remember that Brooks’ is only one part of the whole. Despite our inclination to take aim at any halfback who leads a struggling offence, it’s possible Brooks’ is an exceptional player caught between poor teammates and a rotating cast of coaches. Here is his breakdown of possession for 2018:

Luke Brooks Half Average
Possessions per Game 49.17 46.58
Runs per 36 Poss 4.94 3.63
Passes per 36 Poss 18.49 19.28
Kicks per 36 Poss 6.28 6.93

He has a higher than average usage rate compared to other halves and runs the ball significantly more than most. Looking through his running numbers, there is a very good reason for this:

Luke Brooks Half Average
Metres per Run 9.30 8.97
Linebreaks per 36 Runs 2.44 1.92
Tacklebusts per 36 Runs 12.22 12.16
Try’s per 36 Runs 0.15 0.16

He is an exceptional ball runner when compared to average, both in efficiency as well as quantity, generating meters and linebreaks at a very high rate. His playmaking numbers are also outstanding comparatively for halves:

Luke Brooks Half Average
Engagements per 36 Poss 7.93 7.86
LB Assists per 36 Poss 0.52 0.46
Try Assists per 36 Poss 0.34 0.50

Brooks engages the defensive line and generates linebreaks for his teammates well above average for a halfback. The interesting statistic, and the only statistic that doesn’t shine favourably upon Luke Brooks are his below average try assists. In isolation that reflects poorly on Brooks, and while try assists are an individual statistic it’s also the statistic that requires a teammate to do the most – to score. We know from Brooks’ previous numbers that he is generating significant opportunity through linebreaks from running or passing, and yet these opportunities are not resulting in tries from his teammates. This gives significant credence to what many believe – that Luke Brooks is an elite-half on a bad team.

It’s difficult to argue with that sentiment both statistically and subjectively. Last season the Tigers played one of the worst hooking rotations in the NRL by cobbling minutes of Taylor and Liddle before they sent an SOS to a 34 year old Robbie Farah. They also tried several players at fullback including Tui Lolohea who was unable to find another team once released, before landing Moses Mbye in a firesale. Russell Packer their leading forward regressed as the season drew on, and their pack as a whole lacked significant punch.

Brooks has been given every opportunity to fail by the Wests Tigers and the ongoing circus that has followed him since he assumed the role of halfback. He will now have another new coach and another new system in Michael McGuire, but there is cause for optimism – with a stable organisation and quality recruiting for the players around him, he has the potential to rise as the best halfback in the game. Luke Brooks committed to the Wests Tigers when he signed that extension, and now it’s time for the Wests Tigers to commit to winning with him.

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