Luke Brooks now feels as though the Wests Tigers are his team.
The NRL rookie-of-the-year favourite produced the turning point in a come-from-behind 23-20 win over Newcastle at Hunter Stadium, to really take ownership of his No.7 responsibilities.
With the Tigers down 16-14 against a much-improved Knights, Brooks rose to the challenge in front of 22,173 Novocastrians to boot a 40/20 with 16 minutes on the clock to completely change the momentum of a thrilling contest.
Tigers captain Robbie Farah sprinted down-field, looking to take advantage of a new rule in 2014 which allows teams to take a quick tap off 40/20s, and was ploughed over by Knights opposite Kurt Gidley who was running back onside.
Gidley argued it was an accident, but the referees saw it as a clear professional foul, and the Knights skipper was sent to the sin-bin – a setback which Newcastle capitulated under to fall to their sixth-straight loss.
Superboot Pat Richards kicked the penalty to tie the scores at 16-16, and three minutes later produced arguably the field goal of the season to set the Tigers on the path to an important victory away from home.
Farah saw it as a coming-of-age moment for Brooks.
“It’s always hard for a young kid to come in as a 19-year-old and push senior players around the park,” said Farah.
“But he’s doing that now.
“He feels as though it’s his team now and he belongs there and that’s what we need from him.”
Brooks said he’s growing in confidence by the week as the Tigers further cement their place among the top eight teams.
“It comes with a bit more experience and getting confidence from the boys and the coaching staff,” he said.
“That’s my job as a halfback to try and change the game when we’re down. The boys stayed in there well and that’s what helped us.”
Gidley refused to renounce his belief that he shouldn’t have been marched.
“I was just trying to get back there as quickly as possible from my point of view,” he said.
Richards kicking was match-defining in every aspect.
His spiralling kick-off to start the match resulted in fullback James Tedesco sprinting through and stealing possession – almost unprecedented in the NRL.
Tedesco, back from injury and contract dramas, then opened the scoring six minutes later.
Richards’ field goal with 13 minutes left came 32 metres out near the left-hand touchline – but most incredibly it came after the Tigers had lost several metres and batted the ball from one man to another in a bumbling last-tackle play.
Then when Chris Lawrence scored in the corner inside the final 10, Richards defied the windy conditions to slot one from the sideline to put the Tigers ahead by seven and ensure Akuila Uate’s third try didn’t clinch the game for Newcastle.
Uate broke the Knights’ all-time try-scoring record – feeding off brilliance from fullback Darius Boyd – and he now has 93 tries from 123 first-grade games.
His first equalled Timana Tahu’s mark if 91 from 124 games, and then the Fijian flyer went to outright first with a fine winger’s display.
Tigers five-eighth Braith Anasta was forced off the field with concussion and a shoulder problem in the first half, after he sensationally landed on his head attempting to catch a bomb in his own in-goal.