Brilliance takes back seat for new and improved Roberts
James Roberts is better equipped than ever to be at his brilliant best as the Broncos start their finals campaign against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday – because he's not thinking about being brilliant.
"Jimmy the Jet" goes into his third finals series with the Broncos a far more mature, seasoned and dependable player than when he arrived at the club from the Gold Coast, off the back of his first State of Origin series.
The once-troubled enigma, who scored 21 tries in 36 games over two seasons for the Titans, has seen his scoring strike drop in his three seasons in Brisbane (36 tries from 72 games) but he feels he is a better player because he has learned how his place in the team structure is more important than living up to his self-imposed nickname and producing the sensational whenever he can.
And after scoring just one try in four finals appearances for the Broncos in the previous two seasons when Brisbane have been unable to get past the second week, the 25-year-old goes into Sunday's clash feeling more relaxed and assured than he has ever been in a career that goes back to a debut for Souths as an 18-year-old in 2011.
"I'm more relaxed as a footballer now; a lot less worried in the big games," Roberts says.
"It's about relaxing and enjoying the moment and doing the simple things right like making my tackles and doing the tough carries when they have to be taken.
"It's not about scoring tries or making breaks or having blinders; it's about doing my job for the team now.
"Three years ago that wasn't my mindset and you can see that in how I'm playing; it's a different game I plan now."
When asked to compare the James Roberts of 2014 when he moved to the Gold Coast seeking redemption after being dumped by Penrith, and the State of Origin player who has averaged 24 club appearances a season in the last four years, Roberts struggled to find the right words.
"I'm more of an individual I guess; I'm a lot more mature as a person on and off the field and my footy is more about the team now and not just me; I've realised that's how you need to be to be successful," he said.
"Being at a club like the Broncos has taught me that and being around people like Wayne [Bennett] and Darius [Boyd] and Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker; they taught me a lot. It's something you learn as you go and you have to experience it [making errors] to be able to learn and get better.
"I have achieved my lifelong goal this year which is to play Origin; that's all I wanted to do since I as young … well and obviously also win a premiership."
In his five seasons since leaving Sydney, he has gone from the unpredictable (on and off the field), often immature, restless and nervous figure who shunned the media to a more relaxed and mature player, a father who does not drink and a man who seems more content with who he is.
And he is excited about what the Broncos are capable of achieving in the finals after big wins against the Rabbitohs, Roosters and Sea Eagles.
"Origin this year was an awesome experience and I got a lot of confidence out of that. But the finals are a different ball game, you're with people you put a lot of hard work in a lot of sweat at training throughout the whole year since the start of pre-season.
"They're like brothers out there and it meant a lot to us to go out and play like we have the last two weeks and to get a home final."
And he has a warning to those who want to write off their halves Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford.
Nikorima plays mostly on Roberts's right edge and he admits he encourages the little No.7 to run as much as he can early in games, as he has in the past few weeks, and ignore giving Roberts early ball.
"When they run early in the game and get themselves involved they have blinders every time," Roberts said of the little men in the middle.
"I tell Kodi every game 'don't pass me the ball early in the game, run the ball yourself'.
"When he's running, the defence is worried so much about him and then you've got big Dave Fifita, me and Jamayne [Isaako] outside so there is damage all over the park there.
"When he is running the ball we're a bigger threat."
Don't miss out on seeing your team chase premiership glory. Make sure to get your tickets to week 1 of the 2018 NRL Telstra Premiership Finals Series