TYRONE Roberts has taken his half chance and will be in Newcastle’s squad for next month’s season-opener against Wests Tigers at Hunter Stadium.
Roberts, the 21-year-old playmaker who was expected to play the role of back-up to Kurt Gidley and Jarrod Mullen this season, showed he had other ideas with a two-try performance in the 18-6 win against South Sydney in Saturday’s trial match at Coffs Harbour.
Skippering Newcastle’s second-stringers for the final two quarters, Roberts grubbered ahead in the 57th minute, forced the fumble and then pounced on the crumbs to score the Knights’ second try, after the 10th-minute opener from hooker Matt Hilder.
Then just seconds before full-time, Roberts burst into space, linked with young forward Korbin Sims, and backed up to race over for a double.
Knights coach Wayne Bennett said the rest of his squad would be settled after Saturday night’s hit-out against Cronulla in Tamworth. Roberts, however, had sealed a position, most likely as interchange utility.
‘‘We’ll find a place for him in the 17,’’ Bennett said. ‘‘He’s just too valuable not to have there somewhere, that ability he’s got.
‘‘He did a great job there tonight ... you can tick him off.
‘‘You might get the other 16 wrong but you can get that one right.’’
A 2011 NRL debutant, Roberts has played in 25 top-grade games, 18 of them in sequence last season after Gidley sustained a season-ending dislocated shoulder.
The former Junior Kangaroos representative said he had tried not to dwell on his prospects once Newcastle’s inspirational skipper returned.
He focused instead on Bennett’s instructions to gain strength in the gym and become a more dominant organiser, admitting he was ‘‘not a very good talker’’.
‘‘I was just thinking train hard, do all the little things right, and be in contention for the first round,’’ he said.
‘‘I’ve been working well with the boys. They’re listening to me at training.
‘‘Everyone’s on board.
‘‘They know I’m here to do a job and they’ve got confidence in me to do the job as well, so it’s good.’’
Roberts said he now weighed a more robust 89kilograms.
‘‘I put on four kilos. Wayne wanted me up there so I’ve just been on the proteins, bulking up.
‘‘It’s a boost for my confidence in defence as well.’’
Just what role Roberts will play off the bench remains to be seen, but with Danny Buderus recovering from back surgery, Gidley could find himself relieving Hilder at dummy-half at various stages.
‘‘I can put Kurt in there if I have to and Tyrone on the bench,’’ Bennett said. Bennett was impressed with Gidley’s 40-minute stint, his first game time since round eight last season.
‘‘He was good,’’ Bennett said.
‘‘His great asset is just his confidence and his belief in himself.
‘‘It rubs off on all those around him. He’ll just get better at the rest of it.’’
Bennett was entitled to be satisfied with Newcastle’s new-found resilience against one of last season’s top four.
The Knights weathered a barrage of early sets as Souths, aided by a string of penalties and a Darius Boyd fumble, camped on Newcastle’s line.
But the Knights turned defence into attack when Akuila Uate broke clear, and seconds later Hilder dived over from dummy-half.
Roberts extended Newcastle’s lead to 12-0, but a try to Souths substitute Apisai Koroisau left the result in the balance until the final minute.
KNIGHTS 18 (T Roberts 2 tries; K Gidley, Roberts, P Mata’utia goals) SOUTHS 6 (A Koroisau try; A Reynolds goal).