So, here are the headlines: James Roby signs a new one-year deal with St Helens for 2022 which, incredibly, will take him into his 19th Super League season with his only club.
Except it’s not incredible, is it? Not if you know James Roby, not if you’ve been watching the man play for the last 18 seasons. No, if you know anything about this man and the high quality and ultra-consistency he has displayed over the best part of two decades then you realise a 19th season is more inevitable than incredible.
Most playing careers follow an arc; the steep upward curve of introduction and enthusiasm and breathlessness and inexperience and a fast rate of learning which characterise a young player getting used to life in the fast lane; followed by a period at the crest of that arc, or ‘in the zone’, where the convergence of their knowledge of the game and development of their physical and mental capacity allow a player to properly express himself on the field; followed inexorably by a period of – usually physical – decline before their eventual retirement.
Roby set for another year with Saints
James Roby will take his playing career into a 19th season after agreeing a one-year contract extension with St Helens.
Most players aim to get through the first stage as quickly as possible, elongate the second stage and hold out on the third stage for as long as they are able. And then there are Tier One players, as I would call them; the top two or three percent who seemingly appear fully-formed with all boxes ticked on their debut, and never let up or look back. That’s James Roby to me.
Excellent then, excellent now, and excellent in all the years in between. In fact, it is my opinion that, as you will see below, his own consistent excellence has been his undoing at awards time.
If you are that good, all the time, how do we assess the breakthrough year? How do we say, James Roby has been particularly good this season, when he is particularly good every season? How he has not won the Man of Steel award more than once, in 2007, is beyond me.
In researching these articles, we pundits often rely on the work so diligently and accurately produced by the walking rugby league repository that is Ian Proctor, our Sky Sports statistician – and this one was no exception. But what was different this time was how difficult it was to pick out one key fact or figure.
So, I didn’t. What follows is a summary of James Roby’s career, reproduced with the blessing of Ian, as we find it in our statistics packs each week. I think you’ll agree it makes for amazing reading – and, for the record, is considerably longer than almost every other player currently operating in the game. I’ll speak to you again in a minute or two.
No. 9 – James Roby
Height: 5ft 11in.
Weight: 14st 2lb.
Position: Hooker (Has also played stand-off, scrum-half, loose-forward and wing).
Honours: Seven caps and one try for Great Britain (2006-2007); 36 appearances and seven tries for England (2008-2018 – excl. Italy 2013); played in 2008, 2013 and 2017 World Cup tournaments; 2007 Man of Steel; 2014 and 2020 Harry Sunderland Award; 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2018 Super League Dream Team; 2006 Young Player of the Year runner-up.
Career record: St Helens – 485 appearances, 110 tries, one goal, one drop goal, 439 points; Great Britain – Seven appearances, one try, four points; England – 36 appearances, seven tries, 28 points; Career total – 528 appearances, 118 tries, one goal, one drop goal, 471 points.
St Helens debut: Versus Widnes Vikings (sub) at Knowsley Road on March 19, 2004. Won 38-20.
– 18th season for his only club.
– Started all 17 Super League and Challenge Cup games at hooker this season.
– Made his 434th Super League appearance versus Castleford Tigers last week – taking him fifth on all-time chart.
– Four-time Cup winner with Saints and only survivor from 2008 win over Hull FC at Wembley.
– Made his 52nd derby appearance against Wigan Warriors in July.
– Saints’ leading tackler this season.
– Captained Saints to victory over Wigan his ninth Grand Final in 2020 and won second Harry Sunderland Award, having done so in 2014 defeat of Wigan.
– Captained Saints to Grand Final victory against Salford Red Devils in 2019.
– Four-time Grand Final winner with Saints in 2006, 2014, 2019 and 2020.
– Appeared in 17 of 22 games for Saints in 2020.
– Second hooker to score 100 Super League tries after Keiron Cunningham.
– Made his third World Club Challenge appearance (versus Sydney Roosters) in 2020.
– Only survivor from Saints’ 2007 World Club Challenge win versus Brisbane Broncos.
– Scored first-ever try at ‘new Wembley’ in 2007 Cup final versus Catalans Dragons.
– 2007 Man of Steel – despite being sub in 21 of 33 games that year.
– One of seven Saints players in 2018 Dream Team. It was his sixth Dream Team selection having first been chosen in 2007.
– Played in his seventh Super League table-topping team for Saints in 2019.
– Made 400th Super League appearance (versus Wakefield Trinity) in August 2019.
– Hooker in England team that defeated New Zealand in Denver in 2018.
– Appeared in a total of 43 internationals for Great Britain (Seven) and England (36).
– Represented England in five World Cup games in 2017, his third World Cup.
– Hooker in 2017 World Cup Final against Australia in Brisbane.
– Runner-up to James Graham for 2006 Young Player of Year award.
– Sub for England in 2015 internationals versus France and New Zealand.
– Two-try sub in England’s 84-4 defeat of France at Leigh in 2015.
There are Tier One players…the top two or three percent who seemingly appear fully-formed with all boxes ticked on their debut, and never let up or look back. That’s James Roby to me.
Jon Wells on James Roby
– Played in 2013 World Cup semi-final defeat by New Zealand at Wembley.
– Hooker in 2011 Four Nations Final having been sub in 2009 final.
– Played in four of England’s five World Cup games in 2013.
– Toured for 2010 Four Nations and hooker in three games, scoring a try in defeat by New Zealand in Wellington.
– Played all four of England’s 2009 home Four Nations matches.
– Represented England in 2008 World Cup in Australia, scoring a try against Australia and faced New Zealand in semi-final.
– Made first start for Great Britain in 42-14 defeat of France at Leeds in 2007.
– Made Saints debut as sub in 38-20 home defeat of Widnes in 2004.
– Made full debut (at stand-off) in 8-54 defeat at Bradford in 2004.
– Appeared at Wembley in 1997 Schools curtain-raiser.
– Played in 2003 Academy Grand Final at Leeds.
– Played as sub for Saints in first Magic Weekend fixture versus Wigan at Cardiff in 2007.
– A try-scorer in 2007 Grand Final defeat versus Leeds Rhinos.
That is some career. One of the very best and, in this beautifully brutal sport that demands so much of its playing stock both physically and mentally it is testament to James’ professionalism that he remains durable enough to not just compete but to continue to excel at this level. No, it was always inevitable and never incredible that he would go round again.
There is a statue that sits atop the south-west turnstile entrance to the home of St Helens. It is a tribute in bronze to Keiron Cunningham, one of the very best to wear the Red Vee in the modern era.
The parallels are obvious here: He was a one-club man, a hooker, and a sensational player – as is James Roby. Cunningham played 496 times for St Helens in a glittering career. James’ new deal will probably see him break the 500-game mark for St Helens.
I think the club need to start thinking about where to put the next plinth…