When you think of St Helens RLFC, you only think of one man. James Roby. The hard-hitting hooker has been with his hometown club for over a decade, winning countless trophies in the process. However, as he embarks on his sixth Grand Final, he reveals that he is as excited as ever.
“I am really looking forward to it. It is a big game and a big occasion, which it is every year. I am quite lucky to have been involved in a few of these over the years and it’s all gearing up to be a great game. ”
Roby made his Saints debut when he was just 18 years old, playing against the Widnes Vikings at Knowsley road in 2004 and has since played a major part in the Merseyside club’s success.
He got his first taste of Grand Final glory back in 2006 when he helped guide Saints to their first win in four years. After that, the club became a constant figure in the final, reaching Old Trafford a record five consecutive times.
Unfortunately for the hooker, he could not replicate any of the early 2006 success as Saints were beaten all five times. That was until 2014 when he put in a man of the match performance to defeat rivals, Wigan Warriors, 14-6.
Now, looking back, Roby hopes that he and his team-mates can use all of this experience and knowledge they have acquired over the years and put it into practice on the main stage once again.
“I will be doing my bit to calm to the lads or make sure they are not too worried,” he told MerseySportLive.
“But we are quite lucky at St Helens in that a large amount of the side has big-game experience and it does help, maybe more so in the week leading up with media days, it isn’t normal.
“The key for us is to stay clear, stay focussed and approach this game like we have all season. It seems to have worked for us so far and hopefully, it will again.”
As he stood there overlooking the theatre of dreams, you could tell that it was special. This is not an event that happens all the time, you have to be ‘the best’. Roby played in one of the greatest Saints teams for years and playing at Old Trafford became the norm.
“I probably won’t realise how lucky I have been in my career until I’ve finished, being able to play at Old Trafford as much as I have,” said Roby, on the excitement that this event has given him over the years.
“It is the pinnacle of the sport and everything boils down to this because once this is over, that is it.”
Success is like a drug to a sportsman, once you have achieved something, whether it is as a team or individual, you want it again and again.
It has been five long years since he last stepped out onto that pitch, however, Roby reveals that the memories made have all come flooding back.
“It sounds a long time ago when you say five years but we did end up winning that one, so I have nothing except fond memories of this place.
“It feels a long time ago but when you come back and look at the pitch, you can remember the moment the final whistle went and it is almost a bit of a paradox.
“For a club like St Helens, five years is a long time and the way that we have been going since Justin [Holbrook] got involved, I think it is fair to say that we have been one of the most consistent sides over the past two and half years.
“Obviously, major trophies have eluded us and that is our job as players, to meet the objectives on Saturday.”
Since their shock defeat in the Challenge cup final, Holbrook’s side have won four on the bounce – including their stunning playoff victory over Wigan just two weeks ago – meaning this showpiece event can’t have come at a better time.
Their opponents are in a rich vein of form themselves, though. Salford started the Super League season as favourites for the drop, however, Ian Watson has got his side playing some silky stuff and has taken a group of relegation survivors to Grand Final contenders in just 12 months.
Every time the Red Devils step out onto that pitch, they have no pressure. Nobody expected them to be anywhere near Old Trafford except geographical, of course. They play with freedom, energy and heart and this is why they are admired by so many.
Being the favourites can sometimes hinder a team’s chances of winning on the big stage – something that St Helens know all too well. However, Roby insists that his side are not too worried about what is expected of them, just what they expect from themselves.
“People will talk about Salford being underdogs and will most neutrals will back them, but at the same time, we have to take confidence from that fact that we should be the favourites.
“As a team, we finished 16 points clear but there is a danger that if we start taking things for granted against a quality team, we could get stung.
“Personally, I faith in our ability and the group of players we have got, that we will be alright.”
Roby is the typical ‘one-club man.’ After just speaking to him for 10 minutes, you can tell how much it will mean to him to be a part of this Final once again.
However, this time will be different. After Jon Wilkin left for Canada in 2018, Roby was assigned to lead this team to glory and what better way to start than the Grand Final.
“It would mean everything. It would be up there with one of the best feelings,” he said talking about lifting that prestigious crown.
“To be the team captain, I am very proud and privileged to lead the club out and for me to lift the trophy would be amazing.
“So, I am really looking forward to the prospect, but, we have got a job to do first.”
Featured image – Platy Photos