James Roberts has been released by the Brisbane Broncos and signed by the South Sydney Rabbitohs in a mid-season NRL switch.
Roberts, 26, had been linked to the Rabbitohs after falling out of favour in Brisbane but South Sydney coach Wayne Bennett recently denied a contract would be offered.
Roberts debuted for the Rabbitohs back in 2011, playing 10 games for the club before being shown the door. South Sydney lost Greg Inglis to an early retirement this season, meaning Roberts will be a valuable recruit if he returns to form and health.
The 2018 NSW Origin player has struggled with alcohol, drug and mental health issues during his career, which has also included stints at Penrith and Gold Coast. He was demoted to reserve grade at Brisbane this season, hampered by niggling injuries and off-field issues.
He rejoins Souths with the Rabbitohs leading the NRL, boasting a 10-1 record; the club’s best start to a season in 30 years.
NSW coach Brad Fittler reacted to the news, saying that Roberts would be back in Origin contention once he returned to the NRL. Veteran Josh Morris was hauled from representative retirement to fill the Blues’ right centre spot.
“It’s a shame James ain’t here but I look forward to seeing how he goes [at Souths]” Fittler said.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him smiling again, I haven’t seen him smile for a while. He’s a great player.” South Sydney confirmed the news of Roberts’ signing in a statement.
“James is a South Sydney junior who knows what it means to represent the Rabbitohs. He understands the standards set by ‘The Rabbitoh Way’," South Sydney GM of football Shane Richardson said in the statement.
“He recognises and understands his responsibilities to the club, his team mates and coaches, the members and corporate partners, the board and investors, and anyone else connected to South Sydney.
“Make no bones about it, James is an immense talent, a player capable of representing his state and country under the right guidance, and we feel that James can return to his best football under Wayne and the senior players we have here at this club.
“He will add great strike to our backline and through our discussions with him, we know he wants to return to South Sydney for the right reasons, and he wants to help deliver this club its 22nd premiership.
“We’re all looking forward to seeing James back in the red and green jersey.”
Roberts, a South Sydney local junior, said in a statement that he was excited to be returning home.
“I’m really excited to be coming back to Souths and playing under Wayne again,” Roberts said.
“There are some great players at this club and I can’t wait to get into training and getting back on the field.
“I want to thank the Broncos for everything they’ve done for me and my family over the past four years, but it’s time to move on and to be coming back to the club that I consider to be home is really special.
“I know what it means to the members, fans and the community to represent South Sydney.
“Now I can’t wait to pull on that red and green jersey and play for the members and the fans of the Rabbitohs.” Former Penrith boss Phil Gould said recently that he believed Roberts had serious concerns about returning to live in Sydney, having found trouble in the city previously.
Time will tell if he can be a success at South Sydney and aid in the club’s premiership challenge.
Roberts has played 131 NRL games.