A YEAR-LONG tutorial with two of the world’s most pre-eminent players has left Castleford Tigers signing Ben Roberts confident he has the mentality to deliver the finest football of his career.
The ex-New Zealand stand-off had developed a reputation in the NRL, with Canterbury Bulldogs and Parramatta Eels, as a gifted player who could undoubtedly produce a piece of real class and ingenuity only to then just as swiftly juxtapose it with a moment of utter madness.
It was a frustrating trait for all concerned that did perhaps hold back his career development.
However, the 29-year-old feels playing alongside legendary Australia captain Cameron Smith and Kangaroos scrum-half Cooper Cronk in Melbourne Storm colours last season has proved hugely beneficial.
Roberts, set to make his Super League debut for Castleford next month after signing a two-year deal at Wheldon Road, started in 16 NRL games for the three-time World Club Challenge victors having replaced St George-Ilawarra-bound England international Gareth Widdop in the No 6 jersey.
To say the experience was an education is an under-statement.
Talking to The Yorkshire Post at Castleford’s season launch yesterday, Roberts admitted: “I felt like I was a student the whole year. I was just taking in as much as I could out of them.
“Going to Melbourne, my main focus was just to play consistent football. Before, it is true that I’d have some really good parts in my game but then one thing would just ruin it.
“Concentrating on doing all the little things right and not always trying to go for the big plays was the right way about it.
“That’s probably something I learned off Cam Smith – playing with a calm head and just not trying to do those real big plays.
“They were both good with me. Obviously, as a half, playing with Coops I picked his brain a fair bit and he was always willing to help me out and work on my game.
“The way he directs the team around is something that probably wasn’t a strong point in my game and something I tried to focus on to see how he steered the side around. He broke his arm in State of Origin and missed five or six games so I took it on myself then in those periods to listen to what he taught me and go out there and do it.
“Obviously, those guys have had some great success with Melbourne, Queensland and Australia. I learnt from down there that if you can get the whole team doing their job individually right, the rest of it will look after itself.
“Now I’m really looking forward to doing that at Castleford.”
Roberts is set to slot in for Marc Sneyd, the similarly daring stand-off who proved such a success for Castleford last season when on loan from Salford Red Devils.
On the back of helping take the unfashionable West Yorkshire club to a Super League finish just two points behind leaders St Helens and a Wembley Challenge Cup final, he was sold by his parent club to Hull FC for £100,000.
Roberts was paired with Luke Gale for Sunday’s friendly against Bradford Bulls, the England Knights international newly arrived from Odsal, as Daryl Powell’s side seek to improve further in 2015. He said: “Galey likes to play a fair bit of footy, off the cuff stuff himself. There was some good signs there considering it was only our first hit-out together and we’ve only had maybe two or three weeks working together.
“Hopefully we can spark up a combination.”
Sydney-born Roberts, whose cousin is ex-Everton striker and current Australia captain Tim Cahill, knows current Castleford players Grant Millington and Justin Carney from back home.
Though he consulted with them about the move, he added: “They didn’t really have to do much speaking as ask anyone and they tell you the same thing – how passionate the fans are here, the culture of the club and the expectation they have on their players.
“After last year they have set a standard now and Daryl, being the sort of bloke he is, doesn’t expect anything less; he sets high standards in training and games.”
Melbourne second-row Junior Moors has made the same move though he is a doubt for the league opener against Wakefield Trinity on February 8 given he injured a hamstring against Bulls.
In that forthcoming game, Roberts is set to face Pita Godinet, the Trinity hooker who played alongside him for Samoa as they almost stunned England and New Zealand in the 2014 Four Nations.
Roberts, who at six foot has a rangy running game that will suit the less structured Super League, said: “I played against England and got a gauge of the style I’d be seeing here so that was a good experience as well.”
Certainly, it has been a year of positive experiences for the player and it could be Castleford who benefit most.