'Brooks and Milford are just fall guys for their dud clubs'
If Sam Walker was playing for Wests Tigers or the Brisbane Broncos instead of the Sydney Roosters, would we be so confident about him having the future most anticipate that he will?
I say this because Luke Brooks isn't a dud. Neither is Anthony Milford.
They are two young men who have been burnt by bad choices, although not always of their own doing.
Watch The 2021 NRL Telstra Premiership Live & On-Demand with No Ad-Breaks During Play. New to Kayo? Try 14-Days Free Now >
I have no doubt that at the right club, with the right players and systems around them, these two could have been anything in rugby league.
In fact, could still be anything.
Instead, they have become the game's latest fall guys and, at age 26, many are wondering whether Brooks and Milford's best days are already behind them.
Brooks's biggest crime was he grew up loving the Tigers.
Milford's mistake was going to a club that lost its way.
It's why the Tigers and Broncos should be apologising for how they have handled the careers of these two, not the other way around.
The same goes with John Morris after the way he was shafted by Cronulla this week, but we'll come back to that.
Firstly, let's look at why Brooks and Milford have not turned out to be the players many thought they could be.
After making his debut in 2013, the same season as Milford, it's fair to say Brooks was the Walker of his day.
Compared to Andrew Johns before he had even played an NRL game, I'll never forget watching Joey watching Brooks one night when he was still in the Tigers' under-20s.
Johns had arrived at Leichhardt early for his Channel 9 commentary duties, and was standing where the TV cameras are positioned at the top of the main grandstand as Brooks mesmerised his opponents in the curtain-raiser.
You could see the joy in Joey's eyes as he stood there on his own like he was looking back in time, perhaps sensing such great hope.
Brooks went on to be man of the match in his debut NRL game. It was a performance, coincidently at the SCG, that was every bit as special as Walker's on the same famous ground last weekend.
And the following season Brooks was Dally M rookie of the year.
But this was happening at a time of great change following Tim Sheens' departure, when the club scrambled from one crisis to the next.
He had to contend with five coaching changes. From Mick Potter to Jason Taylor, Andrew Webster, Ivan Cleary and Michael Maguire. Every one of them would have had a different idea of how Brooks should play.
And in that time he also had 11 halves partners.
Cooper Cronk often talks about how it's the playmaker's job to give stability to a team, but how could Brooks do that if there was no stability around him?
And at a club that hasn't made the top eight since 2011. Remember, James Tedesco, Mitchell Moses and Aaron Woods all left because they craved success.
Yet the Tigers have been such a dysfunctional basket case that they also let Ryan Papenhuyzen, Josh Addo-Carr, Marty Taupau, Isaac Liu and many more slip through their fingers.
And while Brooks was one of a few who gave the Tigers his complete loyalty, he's ended up as the punching bag because of it.
He isn't without fault, and many of his performances have not been up to scratch. But ask yourself again: did he get a fair crack at becoming the player his potential suggested he could be?
Because when Benji Marshall was at his best, it was under Sheens when the club had stability.
And you are entitled to wonder how Benji might have survived those early years if he had to contend with what Brooks has gone through.
The same with Milford.
He was such a wonderful talent when he burst onto the scene at Canberra that the Broncos chased him to be the new star of the game's most powerful franchise.
And after being arguably the best player on field in the 2015 grand final, they decided to offer him $1 million-a-season.
Yet similar to changes that disrupted Brooks's development, Milford went from having stability to seeing Wayne Bennett sacked, before Anthony Seibold came in and changed everything.
Now it's Kevvie Walters.
In his time at the Broncos, Milford has had eight halves partners.
Benji said on NRL 360 this week that Milford was at his best when he had Ben Hunt beside him pushing the team around, and Milford was free to play what he saw.
While Milford never had the personality to be that controlling-type halfback some wanted him to be, he had a great gift to play this game.
Which was why the Broncos wanted him in the first place.
Walters even suggested yesterday that "it's amazing" Milford hadn't walked away from the NRL because of the "scrutiny and pressure he's been under".
Meanwhile, Morris has become the latest coaching scapegoat, and everyone knew before the season he would be lucky to last this long.
So why didn't Sharks management make the tough call before the kick-off? Or if not, allow Morris time to see what Cronulla was capable of before sabotaging the season for everyone.
It was not only disgraceful treatment of Morris, it was disrespecting Sharks fans and players in the process.
And still some try to sell it like the club's done a good job.
This is not a crack at Craig Fitzgibbon because he is a quality man - and by all reports has the makings to be a wonderful head coach.
But there is just no way anyone will justify to me that getting rid of a coach in such an appalling manner after five rounds is good business.
It is just another example of clubs finding a convenient fall guy.
Originally published as Brooks, Milford just fall guys for their dud clubs