Roberts pays tribute to the man who sacked him
JAMES Roberts was a troubled teenager who Penrith sacked after he failed to curb his off-field behaviour.
But the NSW centre has heaped praise on Phil Gould, the Panthers' general manager of football, for driving him to mature from a talent who was unhinged by booze, into a State of Origin player.
While it was Gould who terminated his Panthers contract - after South Sydney had already sacked him - Roberts revealed the Penrith supremo's duty of care never ended, as he kept in touch and continually offered guidance.
On Tuesday Gould lauded Roberts' remarkable turnaround as a "wonderful story" for a blossoming career that has appeared doomed on several occasions.
"James came to Panthers at a very important time in his life," Gould told The Daily Telegraph of Roberts' arrival in 2013.
"It's yet another example of how a sport like rugby league can help a troubled teenage individual like James, grow and mature into the quality young man you see today."
Roberts has had the help of two of rugby league's great mentors in Gould and Brisbane coach coach Wayne Bennett.
"A lot of people have helped James along the way," Gould said.
"More importantly, James eventually learned that he too had to play an active part in his own development.
"He is playing with a great club at the Broncos. He is settled with a family of his own. He is about to become a NSW Blue. It's a wonderful story."
Gould sacked Roberts for failing to adhere to a training and education course after he smashed a taxi window in the 2014 preseason.
Last year Roberts was accused of pulling the hair of a young woman in a Gold Coast nightclub and was also fined $20,000 for another incident at the Normanby Hotel in Brisbane.
He finished the 2016 season by visiting a Thailand rehabilitation facility to deal with "personal issues, including a battle with alcohol."
"I guess I am surprised - it's been a different journey but I wouldn't change it for the world," he said. "I have learned a lot of things along the way. I did my own thing.
"It was Phil Gould and Wayne Bennett. They are the types of people that helped me along the way.
"I've got a really good relationship with Gus. He is always keeping in contact. We always have a really good talk when we see each other.
"When I was at Penrith, he really looked after me out there. He made me feel at home."
Asked how he turned around his career, Roberts said: "There have been plenty of different things; maturity and my family. I've got a young family now, also my brothers and sisters.
"I want to be a good role model for them and to realise that I need to think of others before I make wrong decisions.
"To be honest, at that time, Origin wasn't in my mind. It was more about getting my head right and getting back to where I wanted to be, which was doing what I love, playing footy.
"I was a different person back then. But I will take it as it comes, it was a learning curve and I am grateful for everything that has happened so far. The good and the bad."
Bennett has also played a significant role in Roberts' redemption.
"I am really appreciative of what he has done for me in my career," Roberts said. "As a person, mainly.
"I can't thank him enough. He knows that. He rang the other night and told me how proud he was of me, that really meant a lot to me."
While Roberts was prepared to praise Gould and Bennett, he knew there was only one person who could end his troubled ways - himself.
"It was all up to me," Roberts said. "They didn't do it for me - I did it myself.
"They guided me, for sure. But it was all me in the end. No-one else was going to change it accept me."
Roberts will now mark one of his relatives and heroes - Queensland skipper Greg Inglis.
The pair will engage in a thoroughly enthralling battle.
"He is one of the all-time great centres, especially in the Origin arena. It's going to be a tough one," Roberts said.
"I'm just excited and buzzing. Greg is one of the best centres to have played the game, in my opinion, he's the best.
"I will have my hands full. We are related, distant relatives. He's from Kempsey, I was born in Kempsey. But he's a Queenslander. Around my Souths days, he used to look after me a bit."
Roberts limped from Suncorp Stadium last Thursday night against Parramatta through an ongoing Achilles injury. It was initially feared the injury may end Roberts' chance of selection.
He ran relatively freely at NSW training on Tuesday but did sit out a portion of the session. He is adamant he will be fit and ready for the MCG match.
"It's not too bad," Roberts said. "I had a light run today. It was bothering me in the pre-season and during the season. I just have to monitor it. I'll be sweet."