Luke Brooks was the star of the show for Wests Tigers in 2018, with the halfback producing his finest season since taking out the Dally M Rookie of the Year in 2014.
Despite a slew of new faces arriving at the club, it was a familiar one in Brooks who stepped up when his side needed him most throughout the year — increasing his try assists, linebreak assists, tackle breaks, forced dropouts and offloads — as Wests Tigers produced their best season record in seven years.
The arrival of Benji Marshall proved a calming influence on the dynamic playmaker early in the season, while the inclusion of Josh Reynolds at points throughout the year also added another element, but it was the pre-season that helped Brooks most throughout the year with a completely injury-free season.
Brooks played in every game for Wests Tigers throughout the year for the first time in his career, and it's no coincidence that his best season came off the back of a full pre-season training with his new teammates.
Luke Brooks reflects on Kelly-Barnes Award
While a taste of finals football didn't come for Brooks in 2018, the accolades certainly did with the 23-year-old taking out the club's Kelly-Barnes Award and NRL Players' Player Awards, before capping off the year with a third-place finish in the Dally M voting that saw him named the Dally M Halfback of the Year.
Brooks became just the second player in history to win the Halfback of the Year Award having previously won the Rookie of the Year Award and also became the most capped halfback in Wests Tigers history in 2018 — surpassing the 100-game mark in a thrilling upset win over St. George-Illawarra in Round 18.
Always capable of taking over a game with either his running or kicking, Brooks certainly took huge strides forward in 2018 as both a player and leader within Wests Tigers, and fans will certainly be keen to see whether the halfback can improve his performances even further when he takes to the field in 2019.
WHAT STOOD OUT IN 2018
Brooks' ability to control a game certainly stood out throughout the year, with the halfback producing a number of big plays late on to ensure his side squeezed out some tight victories. The halfback was the man of the moment with a 79th minute try against the Storm giving Wests Tigers their first win in Melbourne since 2000, before backing that up the following week with an 80th minute field goal against the Broncos. It was Brooks who laid on the crucial match-sealing try against the Storm again in Round 5 before popping up again late in the season with a field goal to deny the Newcastle Knights a comeback win. The Holy Cross junior has always had a knack of featuring late on in games — part of the territory of being a halfback in the NRL — but he certainly showed a much cooler head this year with the game on the line.
WHAT'S TO COME IN 2019
The combination between Brooks and second row partner Chris Lawrence in 2018 was as good as it's been over the last five years, and it'll be fascinating to see whether that duo can take their game to new heights again in 2019 in both attack and defence. It was no surprise to see Lawrence and Brooks both produce their best with the other playing well, and the left edge as a whole for Wests Tigers was the dominant side throughout the year — as reflected by left winger Corey Thompson finishing the season as the team's leading try-scorer. Whether the return of Reynolds to the right edge in 2019 means a more balanced attack on both sides of the field is worth watching for Wests Tigers next year, with particular interest in whether Brooks features predominantly on the left or continues the roving role he succeeded in this year.
MILESTONES AND ACHIEVEMENTS
100 NRL Games — Round 18 vs. St. George-Illawarra Dragons, Jubilee Oval (15/07/18)
Wests Tigers NRL Player of the Year (Kelly-Barnes Award)
Wests Tigers NRL Players' Player of the Year
Finished third in Dally M Player of the Year voting
Dally M Halfback of the Year Award