Roberts vows to be father he never had
It's a fact of life that many of us take for granted but Broncos centre James Roberts has vowed to give his newborn son that which he was denied as a troubled youngster: a father who is there for him.
Roberts made a mad dash from Suncorp Stadium last Friday night after the game against the Rabbitohs so that he would not miss the birth, his partner Anna delivering a healthy baby boy in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Joking that coach Wayne Bennett ignored calls from Anna in the lead-up to the game so that he could take his place in the team, the 23-year-old has already taken to changing nappies and bathing his baby boy, something his own father missed as he spent time in jail and had little to do with James and his sister.
"I just want to be the best possible father I can be and give him everything that I never had. Just always be there for him," Roberts told NRL.com ahead of Sunday's clash with the Sharks in Sydney.
"It was a bit hard [growing up without a father] but I had a lot of support, mainly as I got to my late teens.
"My manager at the moment, Jeremy, and my uncle Amos Roberts have been my father figures. They've played a massive part in my life and helped change my life, especially my uncle Jeremy."
Jeremy Donovan, who helped Roberts through his move to the Broncos in the off-season when an irregularity was discovered in his latest contract with the Titans, has been a constant figure in Roberts' life.
At just 20 years of age and with a young family of his own, Donovan took Roberts into his care when he was just seven years of age and later moved down from Queensland to be a support when he was picked up by the Panthers after being sacked by the Rabbitohs.
It's as story that could have led to many different endings at many different junctures but Donovan says the young man he now sees lining up each week for the Broncos is vastly different from the "lost and confused" kid of years gone by.
"I was 20 years old when James first came into my care and I certainly wasn't the smoothest stone in the jewellery store at that point," Donovan said.
"It inspired me to be the best person that I possibly could be given the circumstances that I was faced with. James helped me grow up the same way that I think young Kirk will help him grow up.
"I've heard him talk with pride about playing football but there's been a very definitive difference in the way that he's talked about welcoming his son into the world.
"The first photo he sent me was of him helping to deliver Kirk. It captured an emotion that said that I'm here to catch you and I'm going to welcome you to this world and when you fall over I'll pick you up the same way other people have done for me.
"When he had the contract dramas last year the dialogue between me and James was all about taking it in his stride.
"That the maturity that you show here will help change the perception of that young boy that was lost and confused to a young man that wants to grow up and now has a responsibility that goes well beyond the football and the club and stretches into building a life for a young child that is entering the world.
"At 23 years of age you're not exempt from making mistakes still but it's how you rise from those and continue to learn from them."
The name James and Anna chose – Kirk – was inspired by his younger brother who suffers from muscular dystrophy.
When he was named Dally M Centre of the Year last year Roberts had Kirk beside him on the red carpet and said the moment Uncle Kirk got to meet young Kirk was one he will forever hold dear.
"It's definitely heart-warming. Just to see the smile on his face was priceless," Roberts said.
"As I got a bit older it was always in my mind that if I had a kid and it was a boy it was definitely going to be named after my little brother Kirk. It's also my Dad's name so it sort of runs in the family now.
"The whole family is pretty excited. It's the first great great grandchild on my mum's side so he's pretty special."
The other special person in Roberts' life is of course his partner Anna, who was even forgiving enough to let him squeeze in one more game of footy before becoming a father.
"She was begging me to stay and not go but I just wanted to come up and do a job for the boys," he said, the pair meeting during his time at the Panthers.
"I was contemplating [not playing] but being a Souths junior it was pretty hard to convince me not to play.
"She's definitely turned my life around and helped me mature a lot more. She's a bit older than me and she's helped me a lot. She's one of a kind."