Two crafty halfbacks will square off this Friday night at ANZ Stadium when Wests Tigers’ Luke Brooks and South Sydney’s Adam Reynolds go head-to-head.
After returning from a hamstring injury against the Bulldogs and delivering the match-winning play for his team, Brooks backed up that performance with another strong effort last time out against the Cronulla Sharks — constantly threatening the line.
He’ll come up against Reynolds this week in an intriguing matchup; South Sydney have been hard to read all season but will certainly want to improve on their last start effort against the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles, where they were convincingly beaten 46-8.
Having featured in last year’s State of Origin series, Reynolds will no doubt be looking to put his hand up again for representative honours with the Blues — a position that he will certainly have a fight on his hands for given the return to form by Mitchell Pearce.
With Greg Inglis sidelined and Cody Walker rumoured to be switching back to fullback for the game (more on that to come), Reynolds will likely take on a larger portion of the Rabbitohs’ attack on Friday night, and will need to be at his best to produce a victory.
Other key positional matchups to keep an eye out for this week include Chris Lawrence v John Sutton, Matt McIlwrick v Damien Cook and Elijah Taylor v Sam Burgess.
BY THE NUMBERS
While both players seem pretty evenly matched in terms of their direct contribution to tries this year (Brooks just having the edge with a hand in four tries compared to Reynolds’ three), the kicking games of both players are also interesting to compare. Reynolds’ raw kick metres total (2260m) dwarfs that of Brooks (1105m), but the Rabbitohs’ halfback has also made almost double the total number of kicks. Comparing metres per kick then, it’s much closer, with Reynolds just edging Brooks by two metres per kick. On the ground, Brooks has shown a greater tendency to run the ball this year, averaging 21.3 passes per run compared to 26.2 passes per run for Reynolds, but Reynolds has been more potent when he runs — breaking 15 tackles compared to four.
Since Brooks’ rookie season in 2014, he and Reynolds have come up against each other on six occasions with Brooks edging his counterpart on four occasions, including the last three matches. Reynolds did not feature in the Rabbitohs’ Round 1 defeat to Wests Tigers, however, with the halfback sidelined due to appendicitis. The duo almost featured in the same team back in 2015 when Brooks was selected for the NRL All Stars, with Reynolds named in the same team the following year as his replacement. Brooks also was expected to replace Adam Reynolds in the City team for the 2015 City Country match, but had to withdraw from the side after picking up a corked thigh. Both players have also won the Dally M Rookie of the Year, in 2012 and 2014 respectively.
BROOKS' RABBITOHS RECORD
There’s something about playing South Sydney that brings the best out the best in Luke Brooks, with the halfback winning five of his seven games against the Rabbitohs — his best head-to-head record against any team in the competition. And if we look closer at that, in those games Brooks has accounted for three tries and eight try-assists. In his last four games against the Rabbitohs, Brooks has directly scored or assisted nine tries.
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SOUTHS SET FOR NEW SPINE?
Despite Coach Michael Maguire naming Alex Johnston at fullback and Cody Walker in the halves alongside Reynolds, rumours have been floating around all week that the Rabbitohs may see a late reshuffle in the spine. That could see John Sutton move from the back row into the halves alongside Reynolds, Walker to fullback and Johnston to the wing. Reynolds and Sutton do have familiarity playing in the halves together having played for the 2012, 2013 and 2014 regular season together, but have combined just once together in the past three years — a Round 24 match against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in 2015. South Sydney would go on to lose that game 32-18.
WHAT HE SAID
“We’ve got high hopes for Luke. He’s a very talented player. He probably had high expectations put on him early, which is not unusual in our game, but he’s now getting to a stage where he’s feeling more comfortable in himself and in his own game. He’s got a big role in our team and we think he can handle that. I think he can go in to tomorrow night’s game with plenty of confidence.” — Wests Tigers Coach Ivan Cleary on Brooks