Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has warned against expecting too much too soon from James Roberts as the NRL club prepares for life without star centre Justin Hodges.
Roberts, 22, will debut for the Broncos in Saturday’s World Club Series clash with Wigan, donning the No.4 jersey vacated by Hodges, who brought the curtain down on a glittering 15-year career after last year’s grand final.
Bennett moved swiftly to sign the talented but wayward Roberts when a new contract with the Gold Coast was invalidated after a club official forged signatures on a document.
Under Titans coach Neil Henry, Roberts began to fulfil his potential, scoring 16 tries in 24 appearances last year having been thrown a lifeline by the club following his sacking by Penrith late in 2013.
Bennett is confident Roberts can maintain that form in Brisbane colours but believes it’s unfair to tag him as a like-for-like replacement for Hodges.
“It will take James a while to settle in, I am not expecting miracles from him,” Bennett told AAP.
“‘Hodgo’ was ‘Hodgo’, I want James to be James.
“He’s a quality player and I’ve no doubts he’ll play some good football for us.
“I really like the pure speed he has. He’ll add something different to our backline, but it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Roberts admitted last year being away from the spotlight of Sydney helped him enormously, having been shown the door by South Sydney in 2012 before joining the Panthers.
Bennett believes Roberts turned a corner in his life off the field on the Gold Coast but warned the youngster he’ll find himself under the microscope in Brisbane.
“I think it definitely helped him,” the seven-time premiership-winning coach said.
“But he’s a Brisbane player now and he won’t be able to avoid the spotlight. But he knows what’s expected of him.”