I'm the luckiest player in the NRL: Roberts
This time last year Ben Roberts had one hand on a wooden spoon and the other on a one-way ticket to Japan.
Twelve months on and the nine-year pro is now playing sidekick to professionalism personified in Cooper Cronk, and eyeing a fairytale premiership ring that once looked as unlikely to be on Roberts' resume as a double-digit try assist season.
But in his 11th outing for the Storm this year, the 29-year-old also racked up his 10th set-up of the season in last Monday night's victory over the Tigers in Campbelltown, a mark Roberts can't remember whether he's achieved before.
"I can't remember if I have to tell you the truth," Roberts told NRL.com this week.
It's a remarkable change in fortunes that puts paid to the oft-used description of Roberts as a "rocks or diamonds" player – only this time, he was offered to play alongside the shiniest diamond of the lot, which was probably worth more than any amount of yen he'd pick up overseas.
"I didn't think I was done here [in the NRL], but when the opportunity come up for me to learn alongside the likes of Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, who turns that down?" he said.
"The deal to go to Japan was pretty much done, but I was given an opportunity to go to Melbourne at the last minute and it was one I didn't need to think twice about," he said.
Unsigned and unwanted after a horror year with the Eels, the former Bulldog had little option but to look at trying to make the most of his short lifespan as an elite athlete with a stint with the big-spending powerbrokers in Japanese rugby.
But as he prepares to take on the struggling Knights on Saturday, Roberts expressed how grateful he was to be playing meaningful football at this stage of the year after back-to-back spoons with the Eels.
"Yeah, it's a complete 180 for me. I've tried to put that behind me but man, it was a tough two years," he said.
"For me personally, I looked at it as a character-building phase. And I've learnt a lot from that. It makes me appreciate little things like how lucky I am to be a part of this team. I'm blessed and I'm making the most of it."
Having secured a three-year deal with Castleford last month, this September looms as his final chance at NRL premiership glory – an opportunity he never thought would've happened when he waited for offers last November.
But, speaking like a true Craig Bellamy disciple, Roberts isn't counting his chickens before they've hatched. The Storm might look well-placed in fifth spot on the NRL ladder, but they could fall as far as ninth with a loss this weekend.
"I'm not really thinking about [a fairytale finish] to be honest," he said. "It would be good to finish like that. For me, it's just me turning up every week and doing my job for the team. Whether that be in defence or attack. It's all about me turning up and putting in every week – that's all I'm asked of."