Why James Roberts is a changed man

Something has changed in James Roberts. 

It may not have happened overnight, it may not have happened in the past month, but one thing is for sure, the Brisbane Broncos have played a big part in this new Roberts that was unveiled to the media on Thursday. 

It had been almost 12 months since Roberts had been allowed to speak to media due to his welfare and the waiting group of journalists were not sure what to expect at the announcement of his new four-year deal with the club.

But when Roberts addressed the media this time, one thing was obvious – he was sincere. 

Too often Roberts in the past had given three-word answers and shrugged off questions concerning anything from football to his personal life, but this time it was different. 

Roberts is shy in his own right, but watching him make an honest effort to open up to the prying eyes of a media contingent that had been his harshest critic was impressive. 

He was heartfelt and genuine, with his most emotional response coming when questioned about the turning point in his troubled career. 

 


He mentioned Thailand – where he spent several weeks in a rehabilitation centre last September – and took a deep breath with his eyes welling up. This was the most emotion we had seen from the normally reclusive 'Jimmy the Jet'. 

"I wanted to become a better father," he said, in reference to his 15-month old son.  

Roberts spent much of his own childhood without a father of his own as his dad went in and out of jail, failing to take care of his young son. 

It is a pain that still haunts Roberts, but during his time in Thailand it was something he realised he never wanted to be. 

"I've learnt a lot in my career and I'm still learning. [The turning point] would have been my trip to Thailand," Roberts said. 

"I had a few months to myself and I thought about myself. It made me realise a lot of things, particularly with my son there. 

"There are more important things in my life now. There have been plenty of underlying issues but I've come a long way from where I was. 

"I still have a lot of work to do. I'm just looking forward to the next couple of years. I want to become a better man and a better father."

Without a father figure in his life Roberts struggled to stay on the straight and narrow, turning to drugs and alcohol with these substances eventually disrupting his rugby league career. 

Now he wants to make sure other young Indigenous children avoid the same fate, taking part in a number of the Broncos' Indigenous programs to become the idol he never had growing up.

"I've always loved doing the community work. Working with young Indigenous kids. That really gets me going because I used to be one of those kids," he said.  

"To be able to have an idol come out and spend time with you gives you something to look forward to. It makes them happy."

Coach Wayne Bennett has seen first-hand the impact Roberts has had on these children, with the Brisbane speedster a cult figure among rugby league's youngest stars. 

Kids want to be like him, and for Bennett that makes any gamble they took on Roberts all worth it. 

"James is a wonderful player. I love the fact he just excites people when he gets the ball," Bennett said.

"Kids come here and they all want to meet with him and see him. They all call him 'Jimmy the Jet'. That's what footy is about to me. It's about those things. Football is poorer without a guy like James Roberts."