Return bout: James Roberts is set to play his first game for the Titans against Penrith – the team that cut him loose in March. Photo: Wolter PeetersJames Roberts was a shattered man at the time of his sacking from Penrith, and while he holds no grudges against his former club, he has labelled his move to the Gold Coast as a blessing in disguise.
As he prepares for what could be his first game for the Titans against his former club on Saturday night, Roberts has broken his silence after he was axed by the Panthers in March following an alcohol-fuelled off-field misdemeanour during the preseason.
The talented 21-year-old, who has been named on an extended bench for the Titans this weekend, said he owed a lot to Panthers general manager Phil Gould and club welfare officer Glen Liddiard for helping to turn his life around.
“I was shattered when they released me and told me I was no longer needed there,” Roberts said.
“I think Glen was more shattered than me, he almost burst out in tears. It was pretty heartbreaking and I never really wanted to leave. Gus called me in and said it was one of the hardest decisions he has ever had to make. He told me ‘we’re going to have to let you go’ and that ‘we as a club believe it’s not working’. He said ‘we wish you luck at whatever club you go to, which I’m sure you’ll find’. He just said it wasn’t working out and that I’ve had enough warnings.
“I got along with Gus. He’s like the godfather at Penrith and he always came around to check on me and make sure everything was all good. That’s why I was shocked when he called me in and told me they had to let me go. Gus has helped me out a lot and I couldn’t thank him enough for what he did for me. I’m still looking to give him a buzz once I get my life back on track, but it’s all worked out perfect for me on the Gold Coast. One of my uncles told me it was a blessing in disguise.”
At the start of last year, Roberts was homeless. He was living out of his car for a fortnight as he looked to get his life back on track at the foot of the mountains after he was dumped by South Sydney.
His talent has never been questioned, winning the Jack Gibson medal last year as the best player in Penrith’s Holden Cup premiership triumph.
He’s now living at Tweed Heads with Titans teammate and cousin Caleb Binge. While some may see this as his last chance, Roberts said the move was his best shot at making the most of his freakish talent.
“I don’t feel like it’s my last chance, I feel like it’s my best chance,” Roberts said.
“I will make it work. You’d have to have something wrong with you for it to not work out up here given the lifestyle, the boys and the facilities. It’s good for me to be up here with my close mate Brad Tighe. When I found out he was going to the Titans, I started thinking I wanted to leave the club too because I was training at right centre but the Panthers had signed Jamal [Idris] to play there.
“I was a bit heartbroken when I was told they were going to run Jamal at centre and, if injuries occur, then I’ll get my crack. They wanted me to run on the right wing and I didn’t like that, but that’s how it goes sometimes.”
Since the preseason incident that culminated in his sacking from Penrith, Roberts has been on an alcohol ban imposed by the NRL’s integrity unit.
While that ban is set to be lifted in just over a fortnight, Roberts has vowed to stay off the drink in a bid to fulfil his potential.
“After leaving Penrith, I haven’t touched a drink since,” Roberts said.
“Nothing good comes out of it, especially when you’re an athlete. The Integrity Unit put me on an alcohol ban, which at first I didn’t like. But now it’s my choice not to drink. I’m still on a ban but when it finishes, I’m not going to drink. I’ve learnt that alcohol is not my mate.”