James Roby wary of Catalans threat as he eyes further history for St Helens
Evergreen James Roby will walk out into the red-hot atmosphere of a jam-packed Old Trafford on Saturday night as the only St Helens player to have already faced the Catalans Dragons in a Rugby League showpiece.
The 35-year-old St Helens skipper was a member of the 2007 side which crushed the Frenchmen 30-8 in the final of the Challenge Cup at Wembley and created a piece of history by scoring the first try in the revamped stadium.
Roby, now in the twilight of a highly successful career, has won a plethora of domestic honours in the sport after turning professional at Knowsley Road 17 year ago and will be seeking his sixth Grand Final triumph.
It's a similar track previously trodden by former team-mate Paul Wellens,who is now head coach Kristian Woolf's assistant at the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Roby, who will be playing his 492nd match for his home town club on Saturday, said: ''Obviously, It will be a special occasion and for me personally it may be a last chance to win a trophy.
''I'm close to the end of my career so I will have to deal with what's put in front of me and savour every moment.''
Much of the build-up has been centred on the Dragons’ chance to make history by becoming the first overseas team to become rugby league champions but the Saints captain has no time for sentiment.
“The story behind Catalan and Toulouse both doing well and the growth of the game in the south of France is brilliant for the game but we are not really too bothered about that on Saturday,” he said.
“We will just have to get our own house in order and perform like I know we can. The three-peat is there and an opportunity is in front of us.
“It has taken so long to get here – to put ourselves in the position to be within 80 minutes of winning three in a row.
“It is really special and we are aware of that – and will do everything we can to achieve it.”
Victory in their 14th Grand Final would also enable St Helens to repeat the double they achieved in 2006, when a 20-year-old Roby was a substitute in their 42-12 Challenge Cup final win over Huddersfield at Twickenham.
The double has been achieved by just three other clubs in the 24-year history of the Grand Final – Bradford (2003), Wigan (2013) and Leeds (2015) – which Roby says illustrates just how difficult a task it is.
“The double almost gets forgotten because the talk is the three-peat but to win the Challenge Cup and Super League in the same year is no mean feat,” said Roby, who was a tryscorer in Saints’ 26-12 win over Castleford at Wembley in July.
“Winning at Wembley was fantastic for the club but there is always that little bit of doubt – can a team that wins at Wembley find the enthusiasm to keep going for the rest of the year and find the performances?
“But we have also improved since then, we are going into this game in better form than we went into the Challenge Cup final.
“We are also aware that that does not mean anything and, if Catalans play better than us on Saturday night, they will be remembered as the champions and not us.
“It is something that we are proud of, and we are proud of the fact that we have responded and rallied toward this back end of the year but there is one more to go.”
It has not been all glory for Roby, who suffered the heartbreak of five successive Grand Final defeats from 2007-11 and is aware another on Saturday would give him the unwanted record of most Old Trafford losses.
But the veteran hooker, who turns 36 in November, also knows he playing well enough to produce a pivotal role against the Catalans and says the lockdown in 2020 caused by the pandemic has helped him prolong his career, which he will extend to the end of 2022.
“The Covid break helped me,” he said. “In 2019 and maybe going back further I was really struggling with groin issues and Covid came at a perfect time for me and probably a lot of lads in rugby league because players are often carrying some sort of knock.
“That 16 weeks at home meant we could still train and keep ticking over without putting the body through the rigours of contact of body on body.
“I’d like to think that has helped me out with one good year left in me.
“It was a hard decision to announce when I will be finishing because you kind of think about playing as long as you can or call it a day.
“I thought I’d like to go out on my own terms – next year is my last one.
“We have made that decision and I am going to commit to that and give it everything I can until the day I finish.”