Jackson Hastings has made it his mission to take the pressure off Luke Brooks, claiming long-term scrutiny of the Wests Tigers halfback has been unfair.
Brooks will head to Newcastle on Sunday for the first time since being linked to the Knights over the off-season, with the Tigers adamant they would not release him.
The Tigers No.7 remains one of the most scrutinised players of the past decade, still carrying the burden of being labelled the game’s next big thing before his debut in 2013.
Hastings made a point to watch Brooks closely throughout last season, knowing he would be heading home from England to partner him at the Tigers in 2022.
And he is determined to make life easier for the 27-year-old, be it as a five-eighth now or at lock when Adam Doueihi returns.
“I just want to take the pressure off him where I can,” Hastings told AAP.
“The bloke has copped so much for the past 10 years … And I feel like a lot of it has been unfair.”
“I really started taking a closer look at the Tigers last year
“I just thought if I could come and kick the ball, run the ball, and pass him the ball instead of him always passing to someone else, it can open up his running game.
“That’s one of his best assets.”
There were signs of change in the Tigers’ attack against Melbourne last week, as Brooks operated with more freedom and had a hand in two of the team’s tries.
He and Hastings also combined at times as a one-two punch, with coach Michael Maguire keen to give his team more freedom in attack this year.
“There was a good example in that second half (against Melbourne),” Hastings said.
“I took the line on and got a quick play-the-ball and he stepped up and nailed the kick (to Ken Maumalo) and got the try.
“I feel like we complement each other really well.
“He is obviously the little general that gets around the field and I am that bigger body who can take the line on as well.”
Hastings believes his running game was his biggest improvement during his time in England, where he won the Man of Steel award at Wigan in 2019 just a year after his dramatic NRL exit.
He took the line on nine times in last week’s loss to Melbourne, something he has only done once before in his 48-game NRL career.
“Anyone who watched me from age 14 to 18 when I made that name for myself, I ran the ball and just played free,” Hastings said.
“That is certainly a part of my game that I went over really wanting to improve and I feel like I am such a better player for that.
“It’s not always about scoring the try or setting it up. Part of it is what you can do to set that next play up.”