A coy Wayne Bennett has cast doubt on whether Brisbane are truly in the hunt for the prized signature of star NRL free agent James Roberts.
Having left Gold Coast following his contract forgery debacle, the 22-year-old Dally M centre of the year is reportedly set to be offered a deal by the Broncos and is seen as an ideal replacement for the retired Justin Hodges.
But speaking on Tuesday at the unveiling of the 2016 NRL All-Stars teams in Brisbane, Bennett said it wasn’t on the cards.
“I keep reading about that,” Bennett told reporters when reminded Roberts, who was picked for the Indigenous All Stars side, doesn’t have a club.
Asked if Roberts will play for Brisbane, he said: “Not to my knowledge.”
The player’s uncle and advisor Jeremy Donovan told News Corp that Brisbane had indicated to Roberts’ camp a formal offer would be forthcoming.
However, salary cap pressure means he would likely earn less at Red Hill than what other clubs could pay him.
Dual international and Broncos great Wendell Sailor said Roberts would be Brisbane’s most exciting signing since Steve Renouf.
“He’ll give any team the x-factor,” Sailor told AAP.
“If the Broncos sign him, they wouldn’t have witnessed anyone like that since Steve Renouf.
“Hodges is obviously a different player, Roberts just has that electric speed.”
Roberts, who is also being pursued by St George Illawarra and South Sydney, crossed 16 times for the Titans in 24 games this year but wasn’t able to agree to new terms with the club when it emerged a reworked clause in his contract was initialled falsely by former football manager Scott Clark.
He is also viewed as a potential NSW Origin bolter, and Sailor expects him to break into the Blues backline in the next couple of seasons despite having the likes of Brett and Josh Morris, Michael Jennings, Will Hopoate and Blake Ferguson ahead of him in the pecking order.
“I think he’s a good enough player to play Origin too,” Sailor said.
“NSW have Jennings and Josh Morris but he’ll certainly be putting a bit of pressure on those two centres. He can even play on the wing.”
Sam Thaiday jokingly tried to throw journalists off the scent of Brisbane’s pursuit of Roberts by inventing a rumour that Hodges was coming back from retirement for one more season, before the Broncos veteran played a straight bat.
“I’d like to see him out there on the footy field playing for any team, he’s a great young player,” said Thaiday, who was picked alongside Roberts in the Indigenous All Stars squad.