FOR all he was watching almost 11,000 miles away on television, witnessing his former club Melbourne Storm lift the NRL title on Sunday morning has only served to whet the appetite of stand-off Benny Roberts for what may be imminent with Castleford Tigers.
He was at Old Trafford yesterday, principally on media duties, but also, like the rest of the West Yorkshire club’s squad, acclimatising himself ahead of Saturday’s Super League Grand Final there against Leeds Rhinos.
It is the first time Castleford have reached the showpiece and one of the reasons they have been so dominant so far, claiming a maiden League Leaders’ Shield by a margin of 10 points over second-placed Leeds, has been the wonderful form of their ex-New Zealand international.
Having nurtured his game in 2014 alongside Melbourne greats Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater, who helped Storm vanquish North Queensland Cowboys 34-6 at the weekend, Roberts arrived at Wheldon Road to add some dynamism to Daryl Powell’s side.
The journey has not always been smooth – he missed the majority of last season with a problematic foot injury – but he has returned this campaign to dovetail perfectly with England scrum-half Luke Gale and form a devastating link with marauding second-row Mike McMeeken.
“I was very happy for the Melbourne boys as I know how hard they work in the off-season and off the park during the year, too,” he said, having watched the Australian game’s season decider.
“They’ve obviously been the outstanding team all year in the NRL so they probably deserve it, but I know for a fact they will have worked as hard as they possibly could to get there and then win it.
“Losing it last year as well, they probably had the fire in their belly lit and it definitely made me think about us this Saturday. Seeing the emotions on their faces and what it means to win it.
“As a player that’s what pre-season is all about and, here at Cas, we’ve never lost focus of that. That’s been one of our keys this year – reminding each other this has all been worked on since way back then. Hopefully we’ll now get the job done.”
Sydney-born Roberts, 32, is more eager to get out there than most. Unusually, the ex-Canterbury Bulldogs star endured an error-ridden display in Thursday’s nerve-wracking golden-point semi-final against St Helens, a succession of basic handling mistakes disrupting Castleford’s usually slick rhythm before they finally edged home.
“As a player and team we obviously set standards and last week’s match was definitely not up to standard in terms of the team or mine personally,” he said.
“But it’s definitely one I’ve already put behind me. I had a good day to think about why I went wrong – and where I went wrong – and it’s just the little things we must tweak to get the game right.
“This week is about me preparing as best I can, as I have all year, and not changing anything. The rest should take care of itself.”
Indeed, there is a feeling if Castleford do express themselves as they can – and that remains a pertinent question – they will be too good even for a club that has won seven titles since 2004.
Certainly, if Roberts, with his forceful running and silky skills, can quickly rediscover his best, they will earn their favourites tag.
Some thought he might not flourish again after the surgery that restricted him to just five games last term, his campaign having ended in May.
“I worked hard,” said Roberts, illustrated by the fact he had already claimed the No 6 role before Rangi Chase’s exit in April.
“I’m not going to lie; it was very hard sitting on the sideline being helpless for the boys last season especially with the year we had with a lot of the injuries. That burned that flame in my tummy again a bit more to want to work even harder and play more.
“I’ve done all the hard work so it sort of doesn’t surprise me to have come back and done what I have. But at the same time I’m just happy I’ve been able to produce; it was the case that I had to prove to myself that I could still do the job.”
On Saturday, Roberts will be up against Danny McGuire, the 34-year-old Leeds captain who has made more than 400 appearances for Rhinos and hopes to sign-off with an eighth Grand Final win before joining Hull KR.
“My very first New Zealand game was a one-off Test against Great Britain in 2006 and Danny McGuire was half,” said Roberts, who had legendary Stacey Jones and Bradford Bulls’ Shontayne Hape and Lesley Vainikolo with him in the 46-14 loss at St Helens.
“I’ve known of Danny McGuire since then and he is a great player. He hasn’t really slowed down or anything since then. Credit to him; still, seeing him do what he does shows age is just a number.”
Roberts switched to Samoa in 2008, has not represented them since 2014, but could yet feature in the World Cup. He said: “I’m chatting with their coach, but made it clear Castleford was my priority especially after last season.
“I’ve a Grand Final to win, which is the most important thing. Anything after that is a bonus.”