They’re two of the fastest men in rugby league, they threaten to change the face of their new clubs, shape as a possible NSW Origin centres pairing and they will collide during Thursday’s NRL season opener.
Parramatta speedster Michael Jennings and Brisbane’s jet-heeled signing James Roberts will face off in one of rugby league’s most tantalising battles at Pirtek Stadium to kick-off the new season.
Jennings has been coupled on Parramatta’s left flank with the destructive Semi Radradra and will be marked by Roberts, one of the few players in the competition who can match him for speed.
Roberts’ arrival at Brisbane set off a round of musical chairs which ultimately led to Jennings being pushed out the door to Parramatta and now their fates intersect again in round one.
Roberts has been touted as a future NSW representative and could this year find himself lining up alongside Jennings in a sky blue jumper.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett likened the progress of Roberts – considered the fastest man in the code – to that of five-eighth Anthony Milford.
Milford was slow off the mark in his first year in Brisbane colours but guided them to within a whisker of a grand final win and Bennett expects Roberts to grow at a similar rate.
“He’s highly-skilled, besides his speed he has a good footy brain, he does the things I like in a player, it’s about being patient with him now until he gets used to playing with these blokes,” Bennett said.
“Hopefully by the end of the year, like Anthony he comes into his own as he gets more confident.
“I just want James to be James. I can’t coach what he brings and don’t try to coach it.”
For the Eels, Jennings and Radradra shape as one of the most damaging combinations in the league.
Going into his 50th NRL game, Radradra requires one more try to bring up his 50th four-pointer. Combined with Jennings – who has clocked 112 tries in 193 matches – they shape as a prolific pairing.
“Broncos are probably the benchmark side so they’re not going to give (field position) to us easily,” Parramatta coach Brad Arthur said.
“Roberts is on that side of the field (opposite Jennings) so he’s got plenty of speed as well.
“Jenko’s looking forward to it.”