Brooks and Hastings on the change in Tigers’ thinking that inspired their epic turnaround

Usually, it goes like this after an NRL game: the journos go to the press conference, chat to the two coaches and the two captains, then ask the media manager very politely for a chat with one or two players. If you’re lucky, they say yes.

Naturally, after Luke Brooks kicked a winning field goal to defeat South Sydney 23-22, he was high on the call list, but a few (myself top of the list), fancied a chat with Jackson Hastings, the man who has took the Tigers up off the canvas and led them to their first two victories of the year.

It’s not unusual to have two or three interviews going on at the same time as different hacks chase their different angles, but what Hastings did rarely happens.

He grabbed Brooks, corralled the media together and formed an impromptu second presser in the sheds. Having already taken Brooks’ number 7 jumper and the de facto leadership of the team, perhaps he’s gunning for the media manager role as well.

The dynamic was different to the run-of-the-mill player interview, but all the better for it. The pair bounced off each other, showing a relationship that is still in its early stages, but has been forged through very tough times.

Hastings took the floor and began his address.

“Can I just make something clear?” he told us. “We play a team sport, and the whipping boy has just been the tag he (Brooks) has got year after year after year after year.

“And if you actually go look at his numbers, which I have looked at, and you stack them up against the best halves – and I put best half in inverted commas – in the comp, he is always up there.

“You don’t win Dally M halfback of the year for no reason when he won it.”

The words are one thing, but the tenor of them is another. You’ll have to take my word for it, but the passion was spilling out. Hastings, who rehabilitated himself and his reputation in England after a tough time in his first crack at the NRL, knows a thing or two about pressure and public perception.

“I will continue to defend him, because I have seen how hard he works, but I have also seen what he can deliver,” he continued.

“I got the glory last week and everyone wants to say ‘how good was the field goal?’ But he was our best player. And again tonight he was our best player again. And I am not just saying that because he is standing here, I will say that in front of everyone.

“The bloke deserves a lot of credit. And I hope there is something good written about him, not only because of the mental toughness and resilience but the fact he has copped it for ten years and he rocks up every week and he plays the way he does.

“He’s tenacious, his defence is unreal. He is the halfback for the last ten years and is this club’s leader, and he puts his hand up to go play hooker for half an hour. Do any other halfbacks do that? He deserves a lot of credit. I will defend him regardless.”

Brooks himself looked on, and was asked how it felt to have his halves partner go into bat so vociferously for him.  

“It’s good, he has helped me a lot and just to hear those words, it feels good,” he said.

“I feel the same about him. I am glad he has come to our club because he has added a lot. He is the player we needed.

“He’s got that ‘fuck you’ attitude that we needed. I am definitely happy to be playing alongside him.”

Brooks has long been maligned – a touch unfairly, given the wide structural problems at the Tigers – and the criticism can to a head earlier this year as the club went 0-5 before their dramatic victory over Parramatta. He was asked when it was worst for him.

“Probably the Warriors game,” said Brooks, referring to the game where the Tigers failed to score late despite having a man advantage.

“I made a few errors and I was pretty dirty on myself. The good thing about rugby league is there is always a game next week so you have to bounce back quickly.

“I have learned a lot over the past few years about just being resilient and not worrying too much about what people are saying.”

Hastings chimed in, relaying how it was Brooks who laid the groundwork for results to change while he was out suspended through defeats to the Warriors, Titans and Sharks.

“I want to help him and he wants to help me,” said the former Wigan, Roosters and Manly man.

“I remember from day one, I was just getting my gear and Brooksy took himself out of the way and walked up and shook my hand. From day one he had my respect, and I had to earn his.

“I was stepping into his club and I just wanted to train hard and gain his respect and slowly put my fingerprints in what we do in attack.

“He has helped me a lot too, if I didn’t have him barking at me and telling me what he wants and what we’re going to get, I wouldn’t be playing half as good.

“Everyone wants to point at me just because I wasn’t playing and now we’re winning. Brooksy has definitely gone up a gear, the whole team has gone up a gear. He deserves a hell of a lot of credit and I hope he gets it.”

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