Roller-coaster ... Ben Roberts' career has not been as smooth as he would have wanted, having played for the Kiwis as a 20-year-old. Photo: Getty Images
PLENTY has changed in the five years since Ben Roberts and Benji Marshall were the New Zealand halves, but the schoolboy teammates will again cross paths tonight.
While Marshall has soared to greater heights, Roberts has been on a roller-coaster ride, trying to establish himself as a regular first-grader, let alone retaining his position in the Kiwi international side.
From the Bulldogs, via his NSW Cup feeder team, to Parramatta and the Wentworthville Magpies and back to the Eels - not the resume you would expect from a player who made his Test debut as a 20-year-old.
But like his Eels compatriots, Roberts has found some form in recent weeks, and now he gets a chance to get one up against his childhood friend.
''I played with Benji for two years that I was in the Kiwi team,'' Roberts said. ''I was lucky enough to play with Benji in the schoolboys as well, the Australian schoolboys team. We've played a few games together. Me being a Wests Tigers junior, I got to play a few junior games with him as well.''
While Marshall had one of his worst games of the season against the Rabbitohs last week, it was not from a lack of effort.
That's something Roberts can relate to. ''I've been in that situation plenty of times, as recent as earlier this year,'' he said. ''When you just try as hard as you can to do things but you only seem to make it worse. You just dig yourself into a bigger hole. But Benji's a professional … He's got the experience to pick himself back up. I'm expecting him to do that this week. Every time you play Benji, you have to be on your toes, because if you're not, that's when he's at his most dangerous.''
Despite being dropped to the NSW Cup by former coach Stephen Kearney, Roberts said he never felt on the outer at Parramatta, and was unwilling to seek a release. ''Stephen had a job to do, and for me it was a matter of do I cop it on the chin and work on things I need to work on, or do I sit there and sulk and ask for a release? But there was no way I was going to ask for a release. I have enough confidence in myself to be playing first grade; I believe I should be playing first grade.''