BRISBANE speed demon James Roberts has become the most in-demand centre in the NRL with ‘‘The Jet’’ insisting he will not take a pay cut to remain at the Broncos.
Five NRL rivals are circling Roberts, with Manly and the Bulldogs having expressed interest in the fastest player in the NRL after his scintillating form this season.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett is determined to keep Roberts but the Broncos are facing a salary-cap squeeze after securing five big-name stars in a $3 million retention drive.
In the past three months, the Broncos have retained Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Alex Glenn, Corey Oates and Anthony Milford.
And with the club ramping up talks to retain skipper Darius Boyd on a four-year deal, there are fears the Broncos will struggle to afford off-contract backline duo Roberts and Jordan Kahu.
Roberts is on $300,000 this season, but with the Broncos having outlaid more than $800,000 a season to sign Cronulla sensation Jack Bird, The Jet’s management is seeking a significant pay rise.
Roberts’ manager Jeremy Donovan praised Brisbane’s off-field work in catering for the 24-year-old’s welfare, but said the NSW Origin hopeful is confronting the most important contract of his career.
“We won’t be going backwards and taking less than he is worth just to stay somewhere. The Broncos know that,” Donovan said.
“I met with the Broncos last week and I’m hoping they will table a formal offer in the next 24 hours.
“It would be nice to get a deal done with the Broncos, but under James’ instruction, I won’t be taking anything less.
“Room in the salary cap is not our problem. The Broncos have expressed a desire to keep James and they have told us there is space in the cap, but if they have to shift things around to keep James, that’s up to the Broncos, not us.”
Donovan confirmed he has fielded several inquiries from NRL rivals at a time when there is a dearth of quality centres on the open market.
“James is the form centre in the game at the moment so to be off-contract now, there is huge demand,” he said.
“Our primary objective is to get a deal across the line with the Broncos. If we can’t get the deal done, it would be heartbreaking given the work the Broncos have done for him, but James has to be paid what he deserves.
“What we know is that James has a worth, he has a value and we will be exploring that.
“We will be expecting to get his value whether that is negotiating with the Broncos or any other club.”
It is understood Melbourne made inquiries about Roberts’ contract status last month. But Storm CEO Dave Donaghy said Melbourne will not table a formal offer.
“We can’t afford James Roberts,” he said.
Like Roberts, former Broncos and Storm centre Chris Walker endured some troubles during his NRL career. Walker believes the Broncos is the best place for Roberts.
“I honestly think James should stay at the Broncos,” Walker said.