Random act of kindness behind Roberts' NRL milestone

Steve Cage can't explain why he did it. He'd certainly never done anything like it before, nor since.

Call it a compulsion of compassion.

As he watched his son trial for the Newcastle under 14 team, his attention turned to a young Aboriginal boy sitting by himself under a tree at the far end of the ground.

Steve had noticed the boy's talent but on this day he had missed out on selection.

He walked up to the disconsolate kid who was all on his own and offered some words of encouragement. Told him he to keep his head up, that he was one of the best players on the field. That the selectors had got it wrong.

It was the infancy of a bond that has lasted 15 years and a pivotal moment in Tyrone Roberts' path to playing in the NRL.

On Saturday Roberts will become just the 720th player in premiership history to play 150 games, a milestone achieved by just 7.5% of the 9,535 players to run out in first grade since 1908.

But the reality is that without Cage's random act of kindness, life may have turned out very differently.

"If I hadn't walked over to that tree he would have gone back to Ballina," Steve tells NRL.com.

"I just put my arm around him and told him that he was one of the best players out there and he opened up to me straight away.

"I don't know why I did it. I'd noticed his football. I thought he was a very talented footballer and I just gave him a bit of encouragement and told him to stick at it.

"He was a kid that had made so many sacrifices and was missing his family.

"What made him so successful were all the sacrifices he made. When the other boys were going out partying and drinking and discovering girls, Tyrone stayed solid and made sacrifices.

"This is the result of those sacrifices made by a young Aboriginal boy.

"He's like an extra son to me. I'm so proud not only of what he has achieved but the man he has become."

When he completed his schooling at Hunter Sports High and left the Kiriniari Aboriginal Hostel after five years, Roberts moved in with Steve and his wife Tracey Backhus and their four boys, Daniel the first of three teammates from the Knights' 2009 SG Ball team to take him in.

The Finn and Redman families followed, he and Chad Redman developing a bond that saw Chad serve as best man at Roberts' wedding and in turn Roberts become the godfather to Chad's daughter, Harlow.

Even if Roberts did show him up in the three years that they lived together.

"He always made his bed, cleaned the dishes, that's what he's been like since day dot. He'd make me look bad when I was living at home," Redman says, describing Roberts as the most skilful player he ever played with.

"My family instantly connected with him and my mum ended up asking him to move in. He's been part of the family ever since.

"Those little things at home, looking back now you realise he always had the right attitude.

"I knew personally that given the opportunity that he would play 150-200 first grade games just from his work ethic.

"If you knew Tyrone 10 years ago, what he's built and what he and his partner have built, he's a credit to himself and his family. It's unbelievable where he is now and the type of person he is.

"From being a kid from Ballina, he's come full circle. Earning minimum wage down in Newcastle and not having a whole lot and he's slowly built this life with Brittney and his two girls.

"You're just proud of him and proud of the person he is. I still look up to him even to this day."

Titans playmaker Tyrone Roberts.
Titans playmaker Tyrone Roberts. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

In their three-bedroom house in Gateshead with four boys already pushing the walls to their limits, Steve and Tracey gave Roberts a lounge, a pillow and a roof over his head.

Like the comforting word under the tree, it was a gesture that enabled Roberts to resist the lure of home for long enough to make his own way.

It's why 150 games in the NRL represents so much more than an individual milestone.

"I had a lounge and a pillow, it didn't matter. I was used to it. Just letting me stay there under their roof in their house was humbling, that they would take me in," Roberts tells NRL.com.

"Daniel's dad, ‘Cagey', he and Tracey watched me grow up with their son and play rep teams. He knew I had talent and didn't want to see me go back home.

"That was humbling because I could have easily went back to Ballina and wouldn't have gone anywhere with footy.

"I was just going into first grade and that was a tough stage because I wasn't on much money or anything like that.

"It just brings it all into perspective, where you've come from and how you got there."

They are the families that helped him to reach 150 and now Roberts gets to share a special day with a family of his own.

In addition to the Roberts clan who will drive up from Ballina to mark the occasion, the 28-year-old will have his three girls by his side, wife Brittany and their two daughters, Leilani and Chilli.

Titans playmaker Tyrone Roberts with wife Brittney and their two daughters, Leilani and Chilli.
Titans playmaker Tyrone Roberts with wife Brittney and their two daughters, Leilani and Chilli. ©NRL Photos

Lelani and Chilli will run out with their dad as Roberts leads the Titans onto Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday afternoon and will be waiting for him at the end of 80 minutes, either to share the joy of victory or ease the pain of defeat.

"They keep me happy," says Roberts simply.

"When you're not winning games and it's hard, the eldest one just comes up and cuddles me and says, 'It's OK.' It just brings you back down to earth and you realise what you've got and how blessed you are.

"I want to give my kids a good life and my wife as well. They are my heart and soul and have been to the other side of the world for me.

"I'm blessed to have them to come home to every day.

"All of the people that helped me out, they didn't have to do it so I try and find ways that I can repay them.

"My parents, Amy and John, they are the ones that taught me respect, courage and discipline and my sisters Charmaine, Hannah, Christina and my brother Nikko, they've been there for me through the good and the bad times.

"To play one NRL game is a milestone and I've played 150. It's just a great day to represent not only my people back home but my family and the journey I've been on with my kids and my wife.

"I hope they're all proud that we've been able to come this far."