“Right, shall we go home now then mum?”
An eight-year-old Josh Jordan-Roberts had just made the journey over the Pennines to Lancashire to watch his dad play for Oldham against Keighley. With five minutes gone, young Josh watched as his old man took a tackle, stood up and played the ball, before swinging both fists and knocking out the markers. “No surprise, he got red carded. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen on a rugby pitch,” he recalls.
11 years on and Jordan-Roberts is carving out a career of his own, entering his third season with Leeds Rhinos. Unlike most, though, he bears the pressure of living up to his father’s famous reputation. Rob ‘Two-Bobs’ Roberts was one of the toughest players of his generation. A veteran with clubs such as Hull, Huddersfield and Leigh, he was never one to stray away from the grit and hard work required by a rugby league player, while if a fight broke out on the pitch you could hedge your bets he’d be in the middle somewhere.
“I’m a lover, not a fighter.” It’s an educated response from Jordan-Roberts when asked if he shares many on-field traits with his dad. “But my mum always goes on about how me and my old man are so similar. How we stand on the field, how we run, how we pass, how we step, how we play the ball, how we carry it.
“I didn’t see much of his career but someone once said to me ‘if you’ve got a tenth of his skill, you’ll go a long way’, so he must have been some player. What I did see of him was that he always knew how to control a game, always knew where to be and always knew what to do with the ball so I’d love to emulate stuff like that.”
It was clear from an early age that Jordan-Roberts was destined for the 13-man game. While most primary school kids were playing on their PlayStations or watching Disney Channel, Jordan-Roberts was kicking a ball around a rugby pitch somewhere in a Lancashire council estate.
“He took me to an Oldham training session once. I tried to hold the ball in one hand like my dad did but couldn’t do it. I think I ended up just carrying it by the top,” he chuckles. It seems even then Jordan-Roberts was already starting to grasp the basics of what it takes to be a professional, learning first-hand from his dad’s teammates. “I ended up doing one of the players’ rehab with him that night. He had to hop on one leg down the field, passing me the ball back and forth. I didn’t know at the time what I was doing, but I enjoyed myself.”
There’s a level-headedness about Jordan-Roberts, and it speaks volumes of a player willing to put in the hard work necessary to make it to the top. That’s one trait he definitely has inherited from his dad. While the young utility forward is clearly keen to follow in his father’s footsteps, though, it seems like Roberts Snr is doing all he can to steer his son down a different path.
“Off the field my dad was an absolute train wreck and he won’t mind me saying that,” says the 19-year-old. “The beer probably wrecked him, but when he was playing there was a big drinking culture. The young lads had to buy the beers for the older boys. The clubs he was at probably didn’t help with that either. He just wants me to be the total opposite.
“If I go out for a drink with the boys, he’ll just remind me to think about if it’s the right time and to make sure it doesn’t affect training. So he’s always pushing for me to be better than what he was. He always tells me ‘you are your own player’.”
The former Oulton Raiders amateur began his burgeoning career against Leigh back in 2016, before he earned a second appearance against Wigan last year.
It’s his debut that’s most memorable, though, and not least because he only found out he was playing in the dressing room beforehand.
“Brian Mac had told me I was 18th man but when I went into the changing rooms my shirt was hung up next to Adam Cuthbertson’s, which wasn’t right,” he explains. “It was only when (assistant coach) Chris Plume came up to me and told me I was on the bench that I knew I was playing. I watched the game back the day after and remember Barrie McDermott saying on commentary, ‘That’s two-Bob’s son, can’t wait to see him get on the p**s’. He obviously meant pitch but isn’t that a great remark about my old man.”
A first team debut was Jordan-Roberts’ first hurdle to overcome. Fast-forward 18 months, however, and his attention has changed to an arguably more important goal. With less than 12 months left on his contract, the youngster is facing the prospect of becoming a free agent, which can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced player.
“No matter what position I’m playing, no matter who I’m playing for, the sole outcome is a contract. Even if it’s just for one year and I have to go through all this again, that’s fine. I just need to keep rolling and if it has to be somewhere else then that’s the case.”
Just last month Jordan-Roberts signed a loan deal with Hunslet, another of his dad’s former clubs, where ironically he’ll face Oldham away this coming Sunday. Hopefully this time he won’t emulate his dad, and manage stay on the pitch for longer than five minutes.