The text that bonded Brennan with Tyrone Roberts

"Thanks coach for everything you have done for me. I couldn't have done it without you. I hope I made you proud today."

Garth Brennan’s voice trails off as he remembers the text message Tyrone Roberts sent to him on April 17, 2011.

Ask Roberts about why he sent it after making his NRL debut for the Knights and there’s a reflective grin as he considers a life that could very easily have gone down a vastly different path.

Brennan will coach Roberts in an NRL game for the first time, when the Titans host the Raiders at Cbus Super Stadium on Sunday. But their journey together stretches back more than a decade.

Sent to Newcastle as a 14-year-old by his family in Ballina to complete his schooling and see where rugby league could take him, Roberts first met Brennan when he was drafted into the Knights’ junior representative squads.

Weekends at Ballina would often extend well into the following week before Roberts was ultimately lured back. He effectively found himself homeless while playing under-20s and Roberts convinced himself that the best place for him was amongst family on the northern rivers of New South Wales.

Titan five-eighth Tyrone Roberts.
Titan five-eighth Tyrone Roberts. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"I had nowhere to stay. I was living on the floor of someone else's house and I just decided that I wanted to stay home," Roberts tells NRL.com.

"I didn't come back for about three weeks. We had a two-week break around a bye and when it was time to come back and I just told him, 'I don't feel like coming back'.

"He knew how much I loved being at home but he spoke to me about the opportunity I had at Newcastle.

"He stuck with me. I managed to find somewhere to stay and I stayed at a hostel. It was hard because I'm a family man, it was hard to be away," Roberts said.

"I ended up coming back late Thursday and he just sat me out for that game.

"If it wasn't for Garth I would probably have just ended up back in Ballina."

After a year with Warrington in Super League, Roberts returns to the Gold Coast to add to his career tally of 138 NRL games. He is reunited with Ash Taylor in the Titans halves to start 2019.

The pair guided the Titans to the NRL finals in Taylor’s rookie season in 2016, Roberts signalling his intentions with a man-of-the-match performance for the Indigenous All Stars last month.

He captained the Titans in their opening trial against the Cowboys. But with Ryley Jacks and AJ Brimson applying pressure, Brennan insists what he and Roberts achieved together in the past won't count for anything at the selection table.

"I think I've seen him grow up over the time. I've seen him grow and mature but he's still got a long way to go," Brennan says.

"There are plenty of things he can improve. He still needs to work hard and there are no leg-ups in the halves at the Titans any more.

 

"No matter what's happened in the past or what relationships I've had in the past, that won't guarantee you the job.

"You've got to work hard and you've got to earn the right to get the position here at the Gold Coast."

As for the text message sent by a 19-year-old from the Knights team bus eight years ago, Brennan says it remains one of his most treasured moments in coaching.

"To be honest, I still get a bit emotional when I think about it," Brennan reveals.

"Whenever I do coaching lectures and courses people ask me, 'Why do you coach?’ They're the reasons you coach. To see a young guy who has made some big sacrifices to chase his rugby league dream go on and finally make his NRL debut.

"Quite often you coach kids who go on to make their debut and they don't give their junior coaches a second thought. But that night Tyrone took it upon himself to text me and thank me for helping him along the way.

"That summed up the kid. He's a good kid and I'm really excited to coach him again at NRL level."

For Roberts, it was a small gesture for someone who had been so influential in the direction his life would take.

"There was a lot of hard stuff that I went through and he was there," recalls Roberts, now a father of two.

"It was a big moment. It’s something that you work hard towards and I just thanked him because he knew me back to front.

"He knew my family, he knew what it meant to me and I just wanted to show him my appreciation."