Last night was an ideal time for James Roberts to score a hat-trick and the match-winning try with so much uncertainty surrounding the NSW VB Blues centre and wing positions.
Four players spent time in Roberts’ right centre position for NSW last year, with incumbent Josh Dugan playing a limited part in the series thanks to an elbow injury, followed by a broken jaw in Game Three. VB Blues coach Laurie Daley has a plethora of in-form options to fill that right centre position, including Dugan, Joey Leilua, Jack Bird, Josh Morris, Dylan Walker, and of course, James Roberts.
One of the fastest and most naturally gifted players in the NRL, Roberts was at his blinding best last night against the Gold Coast Titans, with his coach Wayne Bennett describing his performance as inspirational.
“A lot of work had to be done to get to the try line, the last one in particular,” Bennett said post-match.
“He had a couple of handling errors when he was trying to overplay it, but when you see him carry the footy with the engine that he carries it with, it certainly lifts you.
“He’s getting a lot more ball now, the guys are happy to give it to him and feed it to him.
“He’s a genuine threat every time he touches it.”
Ability has never been a detriment to the career of Roberts, who has taken time to progress into a potential representative player due to his well-publicised off-field issues.
His Brisbane Broncos captain, Darius Boyd, has seen a transformation in Roberts since he joined the club at the start of last year.
Boyd credits the transformation to the England trip at the start of this year, and now has seven tries to his name this season, compared to last year where he only managed nine in 25 games.
“It was a good trip for him to go over, mingle with the boys, get around the boys and feel like he’s a part of the group,” Boyd said post-match.
“Whether that’s playing cards, playing PlayStation or going for coffee, whatever it is, I thought the England trip was especially good for some of the younger guys and James in particular to feel like he’s got people that care about him and mates around him.
“He’s doing the best he can. I think he’s doing a good job - it’s good to see.”
When Roberts joined the Broncos he struggled for the 2015 form he showed at the Titans where he won the Dally M Centre of the Year award.
The Canberra Raiders play tonight, but for now, he is the equal first with Jordan Rapana on the NRL try-scoring list for 2017.