Two pivotal playmakers will go head-to-head on Sunday afternoon as Luke Brooks and Shaun Johnson square off in the final game of the season at Leichhardt Oval.
In a disappointing season for both teams, Brooks and Johnson will be desperate to end the year on a winning note and give their team something to take in to the 2018 season, with the halfbacks both set to play a major part in their respective teams next year.
A Golden Boot Winner in 2014, Johnson has endured a mixed season in 2017, with the Warriors unable to back up the expectations on them with a finals appearance.
Arguably the most dynamic player in the world on his day, Johnson has averaged just shy of a try-assist per game in 2017 and is more than capable of taking over any game. Returning from a long injury layoff last week, Johnson’s kicking game in the second half was crucial in taking the home side to within a whisker of victory over the Sea Eagles, and Wests Tigers will certainly need to be at their best to contain him this Sunday night.
Despite only playing 18 games this year, Johnson still leads in the NRL in kick metres with 7306 metres, while ranking second behind Nathan Cleary with 257 kicks in total.
Sidelined again last week with a troublesome hamstring injury, Brooks will return on Sunday keen to continue his improved form under Ivan Cleary. While the youngster has gone through a frustrating season with his hamstring, there’s no denying the talents Brooks possesses with his long kicking game and decision making to take on the line.
His running game is perhaps the clearest area of improvement under Cleary, with the numbers backing up how well Wests Tigers perform when Brooks takes on the line.
The Holy Cross Rhinos junior has played five games this season where he has recorded more than 90 metres on the ground; Wests Tigers have gone on to win all five. And in his last seven games, Brooks has recorded three tries, four try-assists and five linebreaks.
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ALL THE NUMBERS
Brooks and Johnson have come up against each other on three occasions since Brooks’ rookie season in 2014, with Johnson holding a narrow 2-1 lead. Brooks was triumphant in the most recent meeting between the two (a 36-24 win at Mount Smart Stadium last year), but it’s also worth pointing out Johnson’s impressive try-scoring record against Wests Tigers. The Warriors playmaker has scored six tries in his last six games against Wests Tigers, and was denied one by the Bunker as well in their 2016 encounter.
Both Brooks (hamstring) and Johnson (knee) will come in to the match under injury clouds despite being named to start. Johnson returned early from a long lay-off last week, but appeared to be limping in the second half. Coach Stephen Kearney said of the injury, “if he doesn’t feel risk, we certainly won’t risk it.” The news is much better for Brooks, however, who will be right to return from the hamstring niggle that has kept him out on more than one occasion this season. “I’m excited for the last game of the season, and ready to go,” he said. “It’s been a frustrating thing for me to manage. The injury itself isn’t too bad but, just because I’ve had a couple of them this year, we’ve had to take a bit more care with it. After this week, hopefully it’s something I can completely right over the off-season and can hit the ground running when pre-season rolls around.”