Maturing Roberts ready to make amends

There are many occasions in rugby league when the man takes some time to catch up with the athlete.

My first sighting of James Roberts was in a Round 26 under-20s match at Kogarah in 2010 where he collected a Dragons grubber kick in the Rabbitohs' in-goal and then proceeded to race more than 100 metres to score at the opposite end.

Three weeks later he did exactly the same thing, only this time in the Rabbitohs' Preliminary Final thumping of the Raiders.

He was just 17 years of age and for all the gasps at his exhilarating speed there were also sighs of exasperation from those who knew him best.

As teammates from 2010 such as Adam Reynolds, Josh Mansour, Josh Starling and Nathan Peats embarked on strong starts to their NRL careers, Roberts lurched between serious injuries and varying degrees of misdemeanours.

He scored five NRL tries before his 19th birthday and was awarded the Jack Gibson Medal as Man of the Match in Penrith's 2013 Holden Cup win but as good as he was at finding space on the field, he was even more adept at finding trouble off it, sacked by both the Rabbitohs and Panthers in quick succession.

But sitting in the stands at Cbus Super Stadium ahead of the Titans' Round 1 clash with the Wests Tigers on Saturday, the quietly spoken Roberts has begun to see the error of his ways.

He has expressed a desire to help disadvantaged Indigenous kids when his career comes to an end and coming off contract at the end of the 2015 season the 22-year-old knows his rugby league career could very well hinge on whether the kid who oozed class has developed into a man his coach and teammates can trust.

"When I first got into grade when I was 18 or 19 I had a lot of high expectations but I don't really worry about that anymore," Roberts tells NRL.com.

"It's all about how I'm feeling and what I can do for the team, whether it's being a star that night or just making all my tackles and all the simple one per centers.

"As I've gotten older now and a lot more mature about my game it helps a lot.

"[There's] a little bit of pressure for me to perform and I'd just like to play the best footy that I have in my career so far. I'm looking at a big year not just for me but for the team as well. I'm looking to make some finals footy for once and it would be good to make it."

Titans coach Neil Henry knows what he has on his hands in Roberts. In a team that struggled to make line breaks and score points last season, Roberts is the man who can turn a game in the blink of an eye.

He's also a player who can look both disinterested in defence and as though he struggles to conform to any set attacking structures.

Prior to his arrival on the Gold Coast Henry saw Roberts as "raw and erratic with a chequered past" and that's probably why he pushed him so hard in pre-season training.

In week one in November Henry himself was doing laps around Roberts but said his right centre has knuckled down in what has essentially been his first full pre-season.

"Within the first couple of weeks of training I thought he was here to train, after that initial week," Henry said this week.

"When we got back from Christmas and he'd really looked after himself and done some work over the Christmas break; I knew he was really keen to start the year well. I've been happy with the effort he's put in to training so hopefully that transfers into some consistent performances for the team.

"Playing at fullback when he was in the under-20s he was untouchable sometimes and I remember him scoring tries on debut in first grade as well. No doubt he's got the ability and I think he's worked really hard to mature as a young man.

"He's happy within himself and he's looking forward to playing some good football. It's a credit to him, he's really knuckled down and done some hard work and hopefully we'll see the benefits of that on the weekend."

After his switch to the Titans early last year Roberts went on to play the final 12 games of the season in first grade and scored five tries in the process. Fans were given a glimpse of his rare talent but were often frustrated at the lack of opportunities coming his way, something halfback Daniel Mortimer is taking ownership for in 2015.

"That was an issue last year and it all starts with the forwards getting quick play-the-balls," Mortimer said.

"When Jimmy has got a line coming at him... He's someone who needs space and once he gets space he is so fast that he can do anything.

"A lot of that comes down to me; we didn't really utilise it as well as I would have liked last year but we've worked on a few things and I'm looking forward to hopefully seeing Jimmy in some space."

Space and time are valuable commodities for any young man and having seen the error of his ways, Roberts is eager to be a valued contributor to a successful Titans team for many years to come.

"I've finally settled down with a missus and I'm loving it," he said of life on the Gold Coast.

"I'm not looking to go anywhere else so hopefully I don't have to and I can stay here for the rest of my career.

"I know I haven't played my best footy to date yet. I know there's plenty more to come and I'm sure [Neil Henry] thinks there's a lot more to come out of me as well.

"I'm just trying to be the best that I can be and if I can do that it will help me and the team."

Video courtesy Titans.com.au