Broncos re-sign Roberts for four years
The Brisbane Broncos believe James Roberts is a key piece in their premiership puzzle and as they announce a new four-year deal for the scintillating speedster are confident they have worked out how to unleash his extraordinary talent.
The Broncos announced the retention of Roberts to a long-term deal on Thursday morning that not only provides stability for the oft-troubled right centre but gives Brisbane try-scoring potency they believe can help break their 11-year premiership drought.
"The club is proud of the support we have shown James, but also the responsibility he has taken on to earn this new contract," said Broncos CEO Paul White.
"The long-term nature of the contract is a show of faith by the Broncos in James, but also by James in the Broncos."
After arriving from the Gold Coast Titans on the back of a 16-try season in 2015, it took Roberts time to adjust to his new scenery, scoring just three tries in his first 11 games at the Broncos in 2016 as he looked to find his place in Brisbane's attacking setup.
It was a steady start that summed up much of his first year at the club, with patches of brilliance overshadowed by his inability to stay in the contest for the full 80 minutes.
But 2017 has seen dramatic improvement in the former Titan and Roberts has been at his destructive best over the past two weeks, running for 170 metres or more against the Newcastle Knights and the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, but that is not where his standout statistics end.
The 24-year-old has also amassed four line breaks, 14 tackle breaks and three tries in his past two matches as he enters the best form of his Broncos career.
Those three tries put him at 13 for the year, four more than he achieved in the whole 2016 season and just three behind his impressive haul in 2015.
The man they call 'Jimmy the Jet' is now arguably Brisbane's most damaging attacking threat and winger Jordan Kahu puts this down to his Broncos teammates altering the way in which they get Roberts the ball.
"Having such a strike weapon with Jimmy out there you do obviously want to get him the ball but we were just throwing it to him willy-nilly when it kind of wasn't on and just expecting him to do something," Kahu said.
"We know now when to give him the ball and his fitness levels have really improved. He's been damaging at the latter end of each half [because of that].
"His fitness was worked on a lot and I think it is really starting to show with his energy on the field. He's always communicating with me and his fitness is at another level."
Halfback Ben Hunt spends much of his time on Brisbane's right edge, providing Roberts with plenty of his try-scoring carries.
But Hunt himself admitted to forcing the ball to Roberts both last year and in the early stages of this season, something he has rectified in recent weeks.
"The thing we've learnt with Jimmy is that we don't really want to force the ball to him. We've got to let the game flow and once we get going into the game a bit we'll find ways to get the ball out to his edge," Hunt said.
"We've just got to play our game first and if we get going through the middle and do all the right things through there the ball's going to get to him in the right positions.
"There were a couple of games where there were a few centres he was coming up against we knew he could do a pretty good job on and we were just trying to force the ball to him early and just not getting it to him in the right ways."
But perhaps the biggest influence on Roberts' form has been his life outside of football.
After a number of off-field issues over his career, Roberts has finally settled down and entered a positive headspace that has allowed him to play his best football.
Kahu spends a lot of time with Roberts both on and off the field and he said he has seen a noticeable change in his teammate.
"It's a lot to do with [his headspace] as well. He's sorted a lot of stuff off the field and it's showing on the field," Kahu said.