James Roberts will reunite with his former coach Wayne Bennett at South Sydney after being granted an immediate release from his contract with the Brisbane Broncos.
The two clubs made separate announcements this afternoon, with the former New South Wales State of Origin representative agreeing to sign with the Rabbitohs through until the end of the 2021 season.
Roberts, who made his NRL debut for the Rabbitohs in 2011, had wanted to return to New South Wales with his partner and two young children.
But the prospect of linking up again with Bennett, who coached Roberts at the Broncos between 2016 and 2018, was also a key reason behind the speedy centre’s move back to Redfern.
“I’m really excited to be coming back to Souths and playing under Wayne again,” Roberts said in a Rabbitohs statement.
“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.”
The Broncos agreed to release Roberts on compassionate grounds, with chief executive Paul White saying the club was “disappointed” but respectful of his reasons for requesting a release.
“We’ve always supported James since he arrived at our club, and we have continued to work really hard over recent months to keep him at the Broncos,” White said.
“He has gone through tough times and great times with us. He has had two children and represented his state while being a Bronco.
“But he strongly feels that he needs to act in the best interests of his family, and that means returning to his family support network in New South Wales.”
PHOTO: James Roberts played in New South Wales’ successful 2018 State of Origin campaign. (AAP: Dan Himbrechts)
Roberts has played 131 NRL matches across four clubs — including 79 for the Broncos — having also appeared for Penrith and Gold Coast before joining the Broncos in 2016.
He made his State of Origin debut for the Blues last year but his Broncos stint had been turbulent, with a number of off-field issues marring his time with the club.
There had been a number of reports suggesting Roberts had fallen out with Bennett’s replacement as Broncos coach, Anthony Seibold, this season and he was dropped to the club’s Queensland Cup feeder side Wynnum-Manly last weekend.
Rabbitohs general manager of football Shane Richardson said Roberts would have the ideal opportunity to put his career back on track playing under Bennett.
“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,” he said.
Roberts will miss the Rabbitohs’ round 12 fixture against Parramatta on Friday night but will available for selection for the following weekend against Newcastle.