Man of the match in last year's Holden Cup grand final, James Roberts has begun training with the Gold Coast Titans. Copyright: Robb Cox/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Very rarely does a veteran NRL coach drag his players from the dressing sheds in order to watch a 17-year-old run around but former Rabbitohs coach John Lang was so captivated by the talents of James Roberts in 2010 that he would do just that.
Brought into the South Sydney under-20s team at just 17 years of age, Roberts repeatedly scored freakish tries that would leave senior Rabbitohs players gob-smacked. In successive weeks he scored length-of-the-field four-pointers starting from within his own in-goal area at the back-end of the season and scored an astonishing four tries against Canberra in the preliminary final.
Making his NRL debut less than 12 months later, Roberts was destined for a long career in the top grade before repeated disciplinary breaches led to his sacking from first South Sydney and then Penrith just last month.
On the comeback trail from a broken ankle, Roberts has begun training with the Titans having signed a two-year contract on Monday and former South Sydney teammate Beau Falloon is excited at the prospect of sharing the training field with him again.
"I was at Souths the year that he made his debut and he's probably the most talented kid I've seen coming through the grades," Falloon told NRL.com. "The things he does on a footy field... he's just a freak. So fast and so talented and it will be a good fit for him up here at the Titans, I'm glad he's up here. It will be good for him I think.
"I remember when he was playing for the Souths 20s, John Lang was the [NRL] coach and we used to go out just to watch him before our game and we'd all think, This kid will be up playing with us in the near future. Some of the tries he used to score were just freakish.
"He's only 21 so his best footy's head of him so he just needs to get that injury right and then hopefully we'll see him in a Titans jersey carving them up."
Roberts played nine NRL games alongside new Titans teammate Dave Taylor at South Sydney in 2011 and last year was named man of the match in the Panthers' Holden Cup grand final victory over the Warriors.
With seven Titans players either turning 30 this year or older, Falloon is confident that the environment Roberts is coming into is one that will give him the support he needs to finally make his mark on the game.
"Up here it's a great bunch of blokes who always look out for each other," Falloon explained. "Being a one-team town we're pretty tight and I think it will be unreal for him up here.
"There are some really good leaders up here who can take him under their wing and get the best footy out of him."