NRL BRONCOS DRAGONS
NRL BRONCOS DRAGONS

Craddock: Fight or flight? Roberts’ worrying crossroads

Friends of James Roberts fear he has landed at a crossroad which will define not simply his rugby league career but his turbulent life beyond it.

This is it. Fight or flight? What's it going to be?

If the Broncos send Roberts to Papua New Guinea to play for Wynnum-Manly this weekend - or even if they simply rest him - he has the David Warner option of saying "I'm going to show that bunch of so-and-sos I can play.''

Or, furious and utterly disheartened by the demotion as he is reported to be, he might just give up and want out.

The Roberts conundrum is a complex story because every plausible explanation can be challenged by an equally persuasive offering on the other side of the argument.

New Broncos coach Anthony Seibold can be lauded for his courage by dropping Roberts in a week in which he has lost Jack Bird for the season and has Latrell Mitchell coming into view like a storming buffalo on Friday night.

Gutsy call, no doubt.

But that argument can be challenged by the suggestion that Roberts is Seibold's first failure of the season, given that Wayne Bennett, who loves the challenge of coaching complex, vulnerable individuals, somehow cuddled and cajoled Roberts into a State of Origin centre last year.

The career of James Roberts is at a crossroads. Picture: AAP
The career of James Roberts is at a crossroads. Picture: AAP

Roberts, who left home at aged 12 and whose father spend significant time in jail, has had a life few Australians could ever relate to and the Broncos must be applauded for their patience with him.

A legacy of Roberts turbulent life is naturally high anxiety levels which Bennett used to lower simply by talking to him. Listening to his story.

For a while Bennett's empathy worked wonders for a player who last year gave rare insight into his fragile self-esteem when he said "there's been times when I have been deeply ashamed of who I am.''

When Roberts declined to attend the Broncos pre-season launch a couple of years ago because he wanted to stay away from the temptation of having a drink Broncos staffers were encouraged by his commitment.

Wayne Bennett managed to get the best out of James Roberts during his time at the Broncos. Picture: AAP
Wayne Bennett managed to get the best out of James Roberts during his time at the Broncos. Picture: AAP

But soon after last year's State of Origin series things started to fall apart.

There were rumours Roberts discipline was fading again and there is a theory that even if Bennett had stayed at Red Hill this year he would have found Roberts a more difficult manage that he did last year and that Seibold was handed an extremely difficult challenge .

Anger levels at the Broncos rose over the past few months with revelations Roberts was not being as diligent in his treatment of his long-term Achilles tendon injury as he should have been.

Arguments flow back and forth.

One insists that you cannot expect someone who has been tossed around in life's tumble dryer as violently as Roberts to conform to normal standards.

Cracks started to appear after James Roberts helped NSW to a series victory. Picture: AAP
Cracks started to appear after James Roberts helped NSW to a series victory. Picture: AAP

But then others point of that South Sydney star Braidon Burns, the son of a convicted arm robber whose parents were drug addicts, has overcome a brutal past to see the light.

And, after all, how many chances should one man get given this is Roberts fourth NRL club and he is on around $500,000 a year.

But conventional wisdom does not apply in this highly unconventional story.

No-one seems sure where the journey will end because for a player with Roberts' gifts there is always another safety net, another desperate club, another last chance saloon.

The only thing certain is that it is a sad story and its most painful chapters may yet to be written.

News Corp Australia


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