Roberts vows to pressure Titans halves
An injury crisis in the Titans' hooking ranks has thrust him into the position for Round 1 against the Roosters but Tyrone Roberts insists he will continue to fight for a place in the team's halves in 2017.
Roberts will start in the No.9 jersey for the first time in his 118-game NRL career at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday night after Nathan Peats, Pat Politoni and Ryan Simpkins all suffered significant injuries in the club's final trial against the Warriors.
With Titans coach Neil Henry eager to pair up brilliant young talents Ashley Taylor and Kane Elgey in the halves, Roberts was fighting all pre-season to prove that he deserved to maintain the position in which he performed so well in last year's run to the finals.
That isn't the case for the season-opener against the Roosters but Roberts told NRL.com that it won't stop him from pressuring the younger halves throughout the course of the season.
"I was determined to be a first-choice half, that's what I trained for," Roberts admitted.
"I was pretty consistent last year and that's where I wanted to kick off again and why I think I had a good off-season. The way the cards have been dealt there have been some injuries and I think I'm the only one that can cover that [hooker] role.
"If [Elgey and Taylor] aren't doing their role it affects the whole team. If I see one of them not doing their job then I'll chip them. That's the same for anyone in our team. If someone makes the same mistake twice they deserve a chippin'.
"If they don't perform then it comes back on the coach as to whether they should be there.
"He said that if the boys aren't performing he'll know who his first choice is."
Up against a monster Roosters middle third boasting the likes of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Dylan Napa and Kane Evans, Roberts will pack down opposite Cameron Smith's Four Nations deputy in Jake Friend.
It's a tough start for a player more accustomed to defending on the edge but given Peats is not due back until at least Round 6 it is a role Roberts must quickly adapt to or the Titans risk losing touch with the top teams early in the season.
While admitting the loss of Peats is a big one, coach Neil Henry believes Roberts has the potential to bring an extra dimension to the Titans in attack.
"He's played a bit of hooker before, he's keen to do it and he's certainly quick out of the blocks," Henry said. "He could really worry some teams if he gets a fast play-the-ball.
"The defensive load is going to be the hard thing for him. He's going to have to get the help from the players around him in that defensive area but I'm confident that he can hold his own.
"He has got a good kicking game from playing in the halves so he has the ability to jump out onto his right foot and he could be a point of difference, the way he can step out and play but he's also got to gain some confidence about being in the middle.
"There's nowhere to hide in the middle and his biggest challenge will be his defensive efforts but I'm confident.
"He's strong, he's a good defender front on and he'll have some help in there so it's up to the guys to help him out in the mid-field."
Somewhat ironically, it will be up to Roberts to provide the service from dummy-half to his two halves that will enable Elgey and Taylor to shine.
The 25-year-old was a key figure in Taylor making such a smooth transition into the NRL in his rookie season last year and believes his knowledge of his halves and forwards from playing five-eighth will help him to excel in the No.9.
"I sort of know already where they want the ball, being a half," Roberts said. "Whether they want to catch it early or they like to get it at the line, whether they've got the skills to catch it at the line.
"I've got that all down pat. I know who to throw it to early and who to dig into the line with. That's a trait of me knowing my players from last year.
"It's just instinct really that I can take into that. I've got a lot of instinct and if I see an opportunity I'll have the brains to take it."