If Luke Brooks needs advice on how to handle being one of the most hyped-up, torn-down and scrutinised players in the game, he doesn't need to look far.
It's only one game into the season and Brooks' halves partner, Braith Anasta, has again been cast as the villain. The veteran Wests Tigers playmaker has been singled out for stinging criticism for his performance in the loss to the Dragons.
Anasta has tasted premiership success and represented NSW and Australia during an illustrious career. However, he has been an easy target for critics, earning Rugby League Week's most overrated tag on numerous occasions. Now 32 and playing in his 15th and possibly final season in the NRL, the flak isn't any easier to take.
"It bewilders me really, I don't understand it," he said.
"[RLW magazine] keeps hammering me with their over-rated stuff. To be honest, you've got to be rated before you can be over-rated. If I was over-rated when I was 19 or 20, why am I still copping it now? I just don't get it.
"I'm trying to enjoy my footy at the back end of my career and do the best job I can possibly do but I'm still copping it. It is frustrating [but] there's not much I can do about it.
"I can go out there, have a good game and no one will mention a thing. It will be 'how good was this bloke or that bloke'; they just expect me to do my job. It goes both ways.
"I don't want to sit here and act like a whinger because I'll cop it for that, too. You know what I mean? It's a no-win situation."
The former Roosters captain said the constant scrutiny made it difficult to enjoy his football and may force him into premature retirement.
"You've got people being critical who really, I think, have no idea," he said.
"I don't need the headache [of playing on], that's for sure. That's probably been the hardest thing over my whole career, the crap that's gone with everything.
"I've enjoyed the game, I've achieved everything I can achieve and the mates I've made throughout my career. I've got a great relationship with everyone in the game, everyone, except some of the media. And I don't know why. It does take away the gloss and that enjoyment a little bit."
A free agent at the end of the season, Anasta admitted he would make an early call on his career "if we're struggling and not getting the best out of myself". However, he was adamant he still had something to offer.
"Of course I do," he said. "Watch my game closely on the weekend, I put a couple of bad kicks in. Apart from that, I don't know how you can possibly blame me for the loss in that game. It seems to keep happening, I've got a bit of a bullseye on me."
Anasta fears that target could soon be on Brooks. After his man-of-the-match performance against the Dragons last year, the teenage halfback did it tougher against the same team in his second NRL game. Like those on Anasta, some of the expectations on him have been unrealistic. Which is why Anasta is a valuable mentor and sounding board.
"He has been great for me on and off the field," Brooks said.
"He helps me out whenever I need it. He takes over the team if I am struggling. So he has been really good for me."
As for Anasta's main piece of advice?
"I just told him to enjoy himself," Anasta said.
"To relax, play his game and enjoy his footy. It's not going to be easy; he's got a lot of pressure on him. Being a halfback is a key position, there's a lot of expectation. Teams are going to target him so he's just got to enjoy himself. We've got to stick up for him and help him out."
The story Anasta fears critics could turn on Luke Brooks next first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.