James Roberts needs the ball in his hands more often to maximise his potential for the Brisbane Broncos, insists club legend Justin Hodges.
The 24-year-old centre’s second season at Brisbane last year was an improvement on the first and he scored some blistering tries in his tally of 18, his best annual return yet since making his Telstra Premiership debut with the South Sydney Rabbitohs in 2011.
Hodges said Roberts could improve even further with more involvement and said the Broncos halves needed to play their part.
“He has incredible speed but he has to use it to the best of his ability and get more involved with the ball,” the former Maroons and Kangaroos centre told NRL.com
“Sometimes in games the ball doesn’t come your way, so you have to go looking for it.
“The one thing he needs to do is to be a little more vocal and ask for the ball, and it is up to the halves to make sure they give it to him too.
“James is one of the best attacking weapons in the game and you have to make sure you give him those opportunities, but you can’t do that when he has three or four defenders on him. You have to feed him the ball and let him make his own breaks because that is what he is so deadly at.”
Hodges was a master at going in to dummy-half and making inroads against tired defenders. He was a handful with his long reach, step and deceptive strength. While a different style of centre, Hodges said Roberts could also continue to make the tactic work for him.
Roberts had the second most dummy half runs at Brisbane in 2017 after Andrew McCullough with 44 runs in 26 games at 1.7 per game and 8.1 metres per run.
Compared to other centres in 2017 only Tyrone Peachey (15 starts at centre for 81 dummy half runs at 5.4 per game, 9.7m per run) and Will Chambers (23 games, 47 runs at 2.0 per game and 8.7 per run) ran from dummy half more times than Roberts at centre.
By comparison Hodges was prolific in this area. From 2013 to 2015, in 51 games, he made 313 dummy-half runs at 6.1 per game, while making 9.7 metres per run.
“James scored a few tries from dummy half last year and it is a good tactic,” Hodges said.
“When you have tired defenders and guys about to get an interchange that is when you get into dummy-half and come into your zone.
“The more he can do that the better he and the Broncos will be.”
If Roberts can lift his game another notch he is sure to come into contention for NSW selection after being talked about as a possible inclusion each time the State of Origin series rolls around.
Roberts set 2015 alight at the Gold Coast Titans when he was the go-to man on his way to scoring 16 tries.
It has been a different challenge at Brisbane in a team that has more attacking weapons and is not just relying on Roberts to break the game wide open.
Hodges noted that Roberts appears more settled on and off the field and anticipated a big 2018 from ‘The Jet’.
“This is his third year at the Broncos and he is comfortable in his role and I think he has his off-field stuff all sorted out,” Hodges said.
“He is an amazing talent and has the one thing every footballer wants and that is unbelievable speed.
“He can turn those jets on whenever he wants to and he is a great player, but now is his time to shine.”