The inspiration behind Jimmy's success
Rugby league’s Dally M Medal night in Sydney. AFL’s Brownlow Medal show the same night in Melbourne.
It’s all glitz and glamour as much as recognising the season’s champions.
And the attention is as much on the WAGS as it is on the players.
Yet amongst all the pomp and flashlights, for Aquis Titans flying centre James Roberts it was more about providing his inspiration – 17-year-old brother Kirk – with a night he would never forget.
Don’t underestimate how James’ partner Anna has been just important to him and a major reason why he is as content and focussed in life, as well as his footy, than he has ever been.
She has been a huge key in his breakthrough season in which he played every game, equalled the Titans’ try-scoring season record and won the Dally M centre of the year award, to add to his Titans’ members’ player of the year trophy.
But ‘Jimmy the Jet’ did not want to let slip the opportunity to give Kirk, who is wheelchair bound because he suffers from muscular dystrophy, an experience he would never forget.
So Anna and James’ mother Zianna made the trip to Sydney and watched as James and Kirk walked the red carpet and met them after the awards ceremonies.
But James says openly it was Kirk who was most responsible for keeping him in the NRL – and going on to making the most in 2015 and what he knows was most likely his last chance in the big time.
Kirk was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was a toddler. It means he can never run around and kick a football with his NRL idol. But it hasn’t dampened his love of the game and appreciation that a family member is such a part of it … even though he refused to change camps and not barrack for the Melbourne Storm.
While the social photo snappers and TV cameras went wild capturing the glamour of tightly-frocked women with their celebrity partners, James walked in, pushing Kirk – with the pride in his eyes matching the awe in Kirk’s.
It was a moment that only those who appreciate their journeys can fully appreciate.
“When I received the invitation, I decided straight away to take him because I knew what it would mean to him,” said James.
“Kirk was just over the moon, he took in every moment. It was like a dream come true for him – all the flashing lights on the red carpet and being there on rugby league’s biggest night.
“He’s my inspiration and he pretty much kept me in the game.
“When I was sacked by Penrith I wanted to give up but if I did that I would have been letting him down because I’m his idol and he loves rugby league and looks up to what I’ve done.
“But if I’m his idol, he’s my inspiration. With muscular dystrophy Kirk doesn’t have a long life expectancy and I want to do everything I can for him. I couldn’t walk away and break his heart, and I knew I had to make the most of this opportunity with the Titans.
“Now I’m the happiest I’ve been during my career.
“I have a wonderful partner in Anna who has really helped put my life on track. I’m really settled at the club and living up here and it’s great having so much family just across the border at Alstonville.
“And we’re having a baby which we’re really looking forward too.”
James had no inkling he would win the centre of the year mantle on Monday. It made Kirk’s experience even better – although meeting Billy Slater was a close second.
“He comes and watches every home game with mum and other family members but he told me he wasn’t giving up following the Storm.”
The flashy centre doesn’t hide from his chequered past. He had a far from ideal upbringing and playing rugby league was where he felt most comfortable.
Perhaps being good, very good, at it came too easily for him.
Only now perhaps does he understands better how working hard off the field, and off the ball when on the field, will make a difference. As does having structure and focus in his life. And support around him.
He knows the challenges will continue, within and outside of rugby league. And he has to work hard to keep his focus.
But James Roberts, at 22 but with his first full-season of NRL behind him now despite making a spectacular debut at Souths in 2011 at 18, now talks about being a leader, and a positive influence to others like Kirk and cousin Tyronne Roberts-Davis, who played for the Australian Schoolboys this week and signed a two-year deal with the Titans soon after James penned his new deal earlier this year.
That’s the model his uncle, former brilliant player Amos Roberts, was to him and Brad Tighe has been during James’ brief time at Penrith and his first two seasons at the Titans.
Many have seen his brilliant tries and line breaks in 2015 but not been aware of his struggles beyond that, and behind the flashy moments.
On Monday night some of them got to see one of the factors behind his new motivation.
It meant a lot to both of them.