James Roby can now do his shopping around St Helens in peace – for the next 12 months anyway. It is rare any piece of news comforts the blow of a derby defeat for Saints supporters but hours before the reigning Super League champions fell to Wigan on Friday, the news Roby had decided to postpone his retirement by one more year took the edge off.
“It has been a relief to get it out there, I won’t lie,” he says. “Every time I’m out and around the town, people are asking me what I’m doing. Am I retiring? Am I going around again? I’ve just had to smile and tell them I wasn’t sure.
“It is nice to get it out in the open but it took so long to decide because it was a decision that was about more than just me. It was about doing right by the club and the supporters.”
Roby, who broke Kevin Sinfield’s Super League appearance record in June and turns 37 in November, had intimated at the beginning of the year this would be his final season as a player. “That wasn’t a lie,” he says, smiling. “I made it clear to everyone, including the club, this would be the last dance, so to speak.
“But I’d assumed that throughout this year, my body would be telling me it was time to quit and in truth, I feel good physically and mentally. I really thought I’d struggle but there’s always been a nagging feeling telling me I can go again, prove people wrong and reach a few big milestones along the way.”
Next year will be Roby’s 20th as a professional, a staggering achievement for a player who rarely misses games. He should surpass the great Kel Coslett’s record of 531 appearances for St Helens and Roby says: “That was definitely hard to resist.”
“In the back of my mind I knew if I retired at the end of this year I’d fall just short. On one hand, does it matter? Do I need to break that record? But it does matter to me because of how important it is for this club and this town.
“The record is there to be broken and I’m aware that if I did that, it will take some beating. That was definitely a factor.”
Six weeks ago, Roby told St Helens he would like to play on in 2023. Saints had gambled on that happening and had not signed a replacement, reiterating it was Roby’s decision to make. If he wanted to carry on, a new contract would be waiting for him. “The club were asking me throughout the year and that helped me talk myself into it,” he says.
“The game is tougher to play at my age. I also understand that I’m not the player I used to be and my speed has dwindled a little bit. So I do have to be more sensible in training and away from the game, but I’m comfortable with that. Considering the amount of games I’ve played, the body is good.”
Roby may talk down his talents, but he is still the best English hooker in Super League, but he will be reversing his decision to retire from the international game? “I’m done with England, that’s pretty much decided,” he says. “Part of my thinking with this decision was factored around England.
“I basically decided it was going to be one last crack at a World Cup or going again with St Helens next year. That World Cup could really take it out of me and that would impact my ability to play on next year.
“I desperately don’t want to be seen as a player who’s gone on too long and I want people to think I’m still adding something to my club. Maybe a World Cup with England would have impacted that. I’ve had no dialogue with anyone from England anyway. I’ve too much respect for St Helens to go on longer than I should.”
With St Helens in pursuit of an unprecedented fourth successive Super League title, Roby has no shortage of motivation to continue at club level. “This group has got a hell of a lot left to achieve this year and next,” Roby says. “We’re playing for the Grand Final over the next few weeks but next season, all the trophies come up for grabs again.
“I think we can do something special as a group. There were just too many reasons not to carry on.”