Peats proud of Roberts' redemption
It's been seven years since a brilliant 17-year-old by the name of James Roberts was thrust into South Sydney's under-20s team and his captain that year believes that the penny has finally dropped.
Nathan Peats and Roberts will face off against each other for the Titans and Broncos respectively at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday night wearing not only vastly different colours to what they did back then but wearing them as vastly different young men.
Peats captained a bunch of South Sydney upstarts that included Adam Reynolds, Josh Mansour and Josh Starling all the way to the grand final against the Warriors in 2010 where Roberts had made such a compelling case for inclusion after coming into the team late in the year that the youngster couldn't be left out of the decider.
He'd scored a try that began in his own in-goal against Canberra in Week Two of the finals and was displaying the blistering speed that we have since become so accustomed to but his struggles away from the field wouldn't become fully apparent until a year later.
Promoted to the Rabbitohs' first grade side in Round 7 just a month after his 18th birthday, Peats was there when Roberts came to training intoxicated and told to go home but could not be so hypocritical to pull him up for his behaviour himself.
"I couldn't tell anyone to stop drinking when I was drinking every weekend. Besides having my kids that was the best year of my life, 2010, I had an absolute ball," Peats recalled in typically forthright honesty.
A work ethic ingrained by his father, former Rabbitohs and Bulldogs hooker Geordi Peats, ensured that Peats soon understood what it took to make it in the NRL but as he was sacked from both the Rabbitohs and Panthers in quick succession Roberts continued to get by on raw talent alone.
It is the natural brilliance with which he was blessed that Peats believes contributed to Roberts struggling to settle into his rugby league career until he arrived on the Gold Coast on his last chance midway through the 2014 season.
"I was with him at Souths in 2011 when he came to training drunk one day and got told to go," Peats said.
"Sometimes those kids who are so good growing up, it's harder for them to be disciplined but he's a good kid and it looks as though he's matured a lot over the last 12 months. I think he'll be fine.
"It's always the most naturally talented ones that are the loosest ones sometimes. He's obviously had a kid now and settled down a bit and I think he's doing really well at the Broncos. He just signed a four-year deal so they obviously see a change in him.
"He's a special talent that kid and hopefully he can keep his head down and focus and kick on from where he is now."
There was no question that a move closer to his family at Ballina had a calming effect on Roberts when he joined the Titans three years ago and he went on to be named the Dally M Centre of the Year in his only full season with the club.
He equalled the Titans' record for most tries in a season with 16 but since a contract irregularity opened the door for the Broncos to swoop he has come to torment the Titans at every opportunity.
He scored a try in his first outing back on the Gold Coast in 2016 and in Round 7 this year completed his hat-trick with a try two minutes from full-time that extended Brisbane's winning streak against the Titans to six on the trot.
As much as it must grate on him each time he prepares his side to face Roberts who has scored 14 tries in 18 games in 2017, Titans coach Neil Henry is glad that the club could help set him on a path that may end with him becoming one of the Broncos' all-time great centres.
"It would be great if he was here but I think we certainly got something out of him when he was here," Henry said. "He was playing some good football and some consistent footy so good luck to him.
"I'm happy for him that he's been able to secure a contract. It's been well documented that he's had some issues outside football and now that he's settled… He's obviously improved in that area otherwise he wouldn't have been offered that contract.
"He'll have a spring in his step after settling his future there and he's someone we have to contain and work together to contain."