Bennett sees traits of greatness in Roberts
To the untrained eye seeing James Roberts – The Jet! – trudge around the University of Queensland fields at St Lucia on his first day as a Brisbane Bronco could have been cause for concern but Wayne Bennett knows better.
The master coach has seen it all before and knows that with brilliance comes risk, and it is a gamble that he is well and truly willing to take again.
One of the most eagerly anticipated deals of the 2016 off-season was finalised just two days prior to Christmas after Roberts walked away from the Titans due to mismanagement of his contract that resulted in the resignation of a long-time Gold Coast football manager from his position.
Despite Roberts' chequered past, numerous suitors lined up to add him to their roster but the 22-year-old Dally M Centre of the Year chose Bennett and the Broncos for reportedly less money than he had agreed to remain a Titan.
Now at his fourth club and with 32 tries from 52 games in the NRL, Roberts is a proven match-winner in the mould of past Broncos greats such as Steve Renouf and Justin Hodges and according to Bennett that is not where the similarities end.
Blessed with blistering speed that can turn opposition defences inside out and back-to-front, Roberts was a straggler behind returning Kiwi internationals Alex Glenn, Jordan Kahu, Adam Blair and Kodi Nikorima as they did laps on Monday.
But rather than question his purchase - like a racehorse owner who watches a yearling take its first tentative steps on the racetrack - Bennett felt vindicated that Roberts shared the qualities of some of the game's most dynamic centres.
"He's obviously not an endurance athlete watching him this morning, but the good ones never are unfortunately," said Bennett dryly before breaking into a broad smile.
"It is about the power and the agility that he has and that's what he brings.
"If you put Justin Hodges and Steve Renouf on that trip this morning they would have run about the same time I reckon. That was reassuring for me to see that.
"I remember Steve's training sessions were never great but he was a wonderful player and a great player for this club.
"I'm not saying James is Steve Renouf because they're all different but he's got the qualities that excite people. Steve had those qualities and he's got them as well."
They're qualities that Bennett may have wished to have had available to him three months earlier when his team went down 17-16 in heartbreaking fashion to the Cowboys in the 2015 Telstra Premiership decider.
If he had been on the right of Anthony Milford when the Brisbane five-eighth made a bust inside the final two minutes from deep inside his own half could the result have been very different? We'll never know but Bennett is adamant he is exactly the type of player a team wants in that particular scenario.
"He's just got that unpredictability about him, that x-factor that not all players have," said Bennett, standing alongside his prized last-minute purchase. "Pretty much God-given actually, to be honest with you, but he's got it and it's something that will complement what we've already got here.
"When it's 10-all and they are two quality teams and there's nothing in it, it's people like him that produce that totally unexpected moment.
"Not every club has them but they are very valued players and they've got to become part of the team and do the team things, but the bottom line is that you really appreciate what they bring.
"They can be the difference when it's really tight and close and everyone's playing their best."