It’s the task few Super League players would fancy taking on for 2018: filling the considerable void left behind by Zak Hardaker at Castleford.
Throughout 2017 – until off-field misdemeanours cost him a place in the Grand Final – Hardaker was perhaps the competition’s standout player. But now, with him staring a lengthy suspension and time out of the sport in the face, Castleford face the ominous challenge of replacing him.
Almost immediately after their Old Trafford defeat to Leeds, Tigers coach Daryl Powell knew which direction he would turn. He would turn to Samoan international Ben Roberts – and the player himself admits his pre-season so far has been mostly about one thing as he tries to adapt to life in a new role this season.
“It’s just running, running and running!” he laughs when he meets TotalRL.
“In the off-season I couldn’t run because I had a bit of an issue with my leg, but that’s all good now and it’s about getting the miles into the legs – but I am enjoying it. Is it tough? Yeah. But the challenge is a very exciting one.
“I flew back on New Years’ Eve and I’ve been in for a couple of weeks or so in terms of training. I’ve crammed a lot into a few sessions with playing in a new position and being away for so long – and as I say I’ve had to do a lot of running so far!”
Roberts admits his knowledge of fullback is, so far at least, limited. However, some crucial pep talks with Powell before he headed to the World Cup with Samoa have given Roberts the confidence he feels he needs to thrive there in 2018.
He admits: “I’ve only played a bit there. But I understand our gameplan and what Daryl wants from his fullbacks.
“The belief from him that he thinks I can go well there gives me the confidence I need to succeed there. The running aspect of things is the big difference; when Zak was there last year, one of his strengths is that he can run for days. That’s an area of my game I’ve got to improve but Daryl isn’t silly, and he knows there’ll be a few tweaks he’ll make to the gameplan to suit me – but I don’t think you’ll see many changes.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge. I spoke with Daryl the week after the final and he mentioned I’d be the guy who would go there. I said to him that I was happy to do the job; it’s going to be a big and a tough challenge but it’s one I’m looking forward to.”
And while all eyes will be on Roberts at fullback to see how Castleford transition without Hardaker, he admits the pressure will be on the Tigers in general to see how they back up an impressive season in 2017.
He says: “Everyone is going to come more prepared for Castleford this year. They’re going to take us more serious as a threat rather than just wondering if we’re going to turn up.
“Consistency was one of our biggest positives last year and like I’ve said, nothing changes. We take confidence from last year and what we did and we set the bar last year – we’ll either be at that bar or above it.”