A candid James Roberts has opened up on just how close he came to walking away from rugby league after a horror 2020 saw him struggle on and off the field as injuries, bubbles and constant negativity took control of his life.
The speedster managed just six games for the Rabbitohs last year before his season was cut short when he ruptured a pec against the Knights.
But it was his career that looked to have ended prematurely when he and South Sydney agreed to part ways on compassionate grounds in November, fuelling fears we had seen the last of the Jet in the NRL.
His off-field struggles have been well-publicised, and he admits how hard he found life last year as COVID-19 and injury took their toll on him and his young family, forcing himself to check in to a rehabilitation clinic for help.
“At one stage I was thinking of throwing it all in and just getting away from rugby league, the media and all the negative stuff and all the pressures and just focus on my family to live a normal life,” he said.
“Luckily I had some time away and I found that hunger again. I found a good balance with my family and I‘m just enjoying everything.
“I just sort of got everything with my family in order and then sort of had a long think about it. And I realised I really do love the game and it‘s my dream to do what I do.
“I thought I would just give it another crack and just enjoy it more instead of making it my job. Just enjoy coming to training and laughing with the boys. So that‘s where I’m at, at the moment.”
While some clubs may have shied away from signing a player with his track record, the Wests Tigers showed faith in a young man who is desperate to return to his best on the field and is feeling mentally stronger than he has in years at his new home.
“I can‘t remember the last time (I’ve been in such a good headspace), maybe in 2018 at the Broncos,” he said after scoring a try in his side’s 52-18 trial win over the Sea Eagles.
“I‘ve got a clear head and I’m just enjoying my footy and enjoying my life outside of footy and you know there’s a lot to look forward to at the club.
“It‘s been quite enjoyable actually. I’ve sort of changed my whole mindset. Starting over and just being grateful for, you know, my job and the opportunity that I have and I’m just enjoying my footy.
“I’m not worrying about the pressures and that outside noise. I’m just doing what I know I‘m capable of and just enjoying my day-to-day life as well outside of footy.
“I‘ve spent a lot of time with my family and just come to training and it was a good, good group of boys here and a lot of young boys. We’re just shaping the culture, you know, to the way we want it to be in the future.”
No one has ever doubted Roberts’ ability, with the strike centre making his State of Origin debut for the Blues in 2018. But those flashes of brilliance have been met with plenty of setbacks, leading him to part ways with four clubs before landing at Leichhardt.
🤩 Daine Laurie starring at fullback.
✈️ Jimmy the Jet in full flight.
🤯 52 points scored…
Plenty of highlights to start the week!
— Wests Tigers (@WestsTigers) February 28, 2021
The Jet hopes his smooth landing at the Tigers will put an end to the turbulence he’s experienced throughout life, with Michael Maguire – who coached him at the Rabbitohs in 2012 – on hand to help him every step of the way.
“He’s been really good,” he said.
“Over the years we‘ve had our differences. I was a lot younger and a lot wilder. I had a few things going on. My priorities weren’t in order.
“Now I‘m in a good mind frame and it’s good to work with him and try and excel my game on and off the field and help the young lads and try to get to my peak footy again. He’s been really supportive of me and helped me a lot. And so is the club as well so I’m really thankful for that.
“I feel very comfy and we‘re changing the culture here and it’s good to be a part of it. There’s a lot of young boys here that sort of look up to us older boys and it made it a lot easier to sort of slide in.
“They were very welcoming and it‘s good to just feed off the young boys and show them the way as well. There are good times ahead.”