Luke Brooks completed one of most memorable debuts in recent memory, but Wests Tigers fans will have to wait another six months to see him in the NRL again thanks to the shortcomings of the salary cap.
Despite impressing the best of judges – including the man he is being compared to in Andrew Johns – Brooks will be banished to under 20s for the rest of the season after starring in the Tigers’ 34-18 demolition of St George Illawarra at the SCG.
The 18-year-old – who scored one try and set up another is a brilliant halfback’s display – was only given clearance by the NRL to play on Saturday because both the Tigers and Dragons are out of the finals race.
The Tigers had already exhausted their second tier salary cap for 2013, but with games against finals contenders South Sydney and North Queensland to close out the season, the teenager will not be permitted to play again until 2014.
It’s a decision that will rob fans the opportunity to see one of the brightest talents in the game.
“Luke Brooks has lived up to all the expectations,” Johns said during commentary for Triple M.
“It’s been a boom debut.”
Having broken a six-week losing streak, coach Michael Potter was clearly enthused about the future.
“My expectations were that he’d go okay and he probably exceeded that,” Potter said.
“It’s a good taste for him, I’m looking forward to next season for him, but we’ve still got two games to go.”
Potter said he would have liked to have had the opportunity to pick him again over the closing two rounds.
“…On today’s performance he looked alright. He’d be in contention wouldn’t he?”
Brooks’ impact wasn’t limited to his own game, with the departing Benji Marshall – who was forced out to the centres – and Braith Anasta producing their best games of the season outside the wonderkid.
With scores locked at 6-all, a scything Marshall run set up Anasta to score before Brooks took over with a try-assist to fellow youngster Curtis Sironen – a sight Tigers fans hope to see for some time to come.
The Dragons scored two quick tries after the break to get back in the contest, but Brooks shut them down with a grubber for Tim Simona’s second before capping a dream debut with a try of his own.
The match represented somewhat of a passing of the baton from Marshall to Brooks.
“Absolutely. I think the future of the club is definitely bright with the talent of Brooksy and a few of the other guys we’ve got coming through,” Marshall said.
“I feel like I’m leaving with the club in pretty good hands.”
Marshall urged fans and the media not to heap too much pressure on the youngster, but he was lapping it up after the game.
“It was pretty good hey?” Brooks said when asked about finally getting his crack.
“… to play with boys like Benji who I’ve looked up to coming up through the grades and who have been my heroes coming up when I was younger (was great).”
Dragons coach Steve Price was still aggrieved after the game that Brooks had been allowed to play, having objected to the clearance via chief executive Pater Doust earlier in the week.
“We clearly support Peter with how we went about it with the NRL this week which was a bit disappointing the outcome, but we’ll take that up next week,” Price said.