Luke Brooks proved his time in the NRL has finally arrived with a career-best performance to help the Wests Tigers crunch Manly 38-12 at Lottoland.
For so long considered a future superstar of the game before 2018, Brooks continued to live up to his billing with a phenomenal first half against Manly on Sunday.
Still aged only 23, he put on three tries and scored a crucial one himself to shut Manly out of the match with a 26-0 halftime lead that kept the Tigers’ five-and-one start to the year going.
Benji Marshall was also brilliant but even his first side-stepping try for the club since 2013 couldn’t take the glory away from the young half, who made his debut alongside Marshall five years ago.
“He has matured a lot since I was here last,” Marshall said.
“The one thing he was always good at when he started was running the ball. And I thought the last few weeks he’s been outstanding in that arena but now he’s providing repeat sets.
“I just don’t think he’s feeling the pressure and expectation he used to.”
The Tigers controlled a whopping 72 per cent of possession in the first half, including a 15-minute period in which Manly didn’t have a play-the-ball but conceded 14 points.
By the break, the Tigers had also run more than three times as many metres as Manly, had 70 more runs and been forced to make 103 fewer tackles.
An indication of the Tigers’ dominance was that after 20 minutes, prop Ben Matulino had 10 runs for 105m, while opposing forward Addin Fonua-Blake had none at all.
Brooks was at the heart of it all. He set up their first two with a kick close to the line and then a slick pass from his own half before he landed the knockout blow with his own try from dummy-half just before the break.
“We go in at 14-0 we’re still a chance but to concede one from dummy-half is just not on,” Manly coach Trent Barrett said.
“It was diabolical on a number of fronts. To have about 20 per cent of the ball is a record since I’ve been coaching.”
Marshall also showed signs of his best, running onto a Brooks ball to cross in the 33rd minute then pulling out his famous sidestep to score minutes into the second half before Manly nabbed two consolation tries.
The Tigers’ embarrassment of the hosts went far beyond the scoreboard as the Sea Eagles were booed off at halftime by a crowd of 15,546.
At one stage, Marshall bombed the ball high into the sun before it bounced back into the hands of Naiqama.
Naiqama then got the ball back to Marshall, who hoisted it high in the air again before Tom Trbojevic caught it and was forced into touch to sum up Manly’s horrid day.