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Ian Roberts (rugby league)

Ian Roberts (born 31 July 1965) is an Australian actor, model and former professional rugby league footballer of the 1980s and 1990s. A New South Wales State of Ori- gin and Australian international representative forward, he played club football with the South Sydney Rabbitohs, Wigan Warriors, Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles and North Queensland Cowboys. In 1995 Roberts became the first high-profile Australian sports person and first rugby foot- baller in the world to come out to the public as gay. [1]

1 Football career

1.1 Club career

As a junior Roberts played for the Mascot Jets in the Souths juniors competition. He made his first grade début with the Rabbitohs in the 1986 Winfield Cup sea- son. During a stint with English club Wigan, Ian Roberts played Left-Second-row, i.e. number 11, (replaced by Interchange/Substitute Rob Louw) in Wigan's 15-8 vic- tory over Oldham in the 1986 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1986–87 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens, on Sunday 19 October 1986. [2] and played Right- Second-row, i.e. number 12, in Wigan's 18-4 victory over Warrington in the 1986–87 John Player Special Trophy Final during the 1986–87 season at Burnden Park, Bolton on Saturday 10 January 1987. [3]

By the age of 21, Jack Gibson had described him as “the best front rower in the game,” [4] and in 1988 Roberts made the first of five appearances for City Origin team. [5]

Despite not having yet played for either New South Wales or Australia, Roberts signed a contract with the Manly- Warringah Sea Eagles in 1990. At the end of the 1994 NSWRL season, he went on the 1994 Kangaroo tour.

After moving from the Rabbitohs to Manly he quickly justified his value with State of Origin selection and a Test debut against New Zealand. Roberts eventually made a Kangaroo tour, leading up front in Australia’s Ashes win- ning 23-4 Third Test victory at Elland Road. Not long after, Roberts signed with Super League despite his club and coach Bob Fulton remaining loyal to the Australian Rugby League. He played in Manly’s loss to the Bulldogs in the 1995 ARL season's Grand Final.

Roberts sat out the 1996 season due to injuries and a contract dispute related to the Super League war. In 1997, Roberts signed with the North Queensland Cow- boys and moved to Townsville to captain the side. His


career wound down in 1998 under the increasing weight of injuries.

1.2 State of Origin

Roberts made nine appearances for the New South Wales State of Origin team between 1990 and 1994. He was an enforcer in the NSW forward pack. A fit athlete, he collapsed from exhaustion after a tireless effort in game one of 1993. The Blues won six of the nine matches in which Roberts played.

1.3 Post-playing

In 2000, Roberts was awarded the Australian Sports Medal for his contribution to Australia’s international standing in rugby league. He served on the National Rugby League's judiciary during the 2000s [6] and in 2004 was named by Souths in their South Sydney Dream Team, [7] which consists of 17 players and a coach repre- senting the club from 1908 through to 2004. In 2005, he was named one of the 25 greatest ever New South Wales players. [8] In March 2014, Roberts revealed that he has brain damage after being knocked out up to a dozen times in his playing career. [9]

2 Life outside football

Roberts came out as gay in 1995, becoming the first rugby league player in the world to do so. He discussed his sexuality in magazines and on television over the follow- ing year. The NRL Footy Show principals Paul Vautin, Peter Sterling and Steve Roach appeared in a poster cam- paign against homophobia conducted by the Lesbian and Gay Anti-Violence Project. He was praised for helping to question prevailing myths about gays and sport. Paul Freeman wrote a book on Roberts, Ian Roberts – Finding Out, which was published in 1997. [10]

In 1999 Roberts was taken to court by Garry Jack over an on-field brawl that occurred in 1991. [11] Jack stated he was taking a stand against a beating he received from several Manly players. He attempted to sue Roberts for $100,000 in damages, alleging he suffered shock, trau- matic injuries to his face and eyes, cuts, headaches and numbness, and was embarrassed by scarring to his face. Jack and Roberts eventually settled the dispute out of court with Roberts handing over more than $50,000.



Roberts has stated he is a sex abuse victim, [12] and gave evidence to the State Coroner of New South Wales in re- gard to the murder of Arron Light, a street prostitute who was set to give evidence against a paedophile syndicate. Light disappeared in 1997, and his remains were recov- ered in 2002. Roberts accused the same man who mo- lested him in his teens of being behind Light’s death. [12] This story was the subject of an episode of the Australian TV program Australian Story, entitled “The Lost Boy”, which first aired on 26 September 2005.

Early in 2005, Roberts appeared in the second series of the Australian television series Dancing with the Stars, dancing with Natalie Lowe. He was runner up in the com- petition, losing out to Tom Williams.

Roberts appeared on the 17 April 2007 cover of The Ad- vocate magazine in an exclusive interview with Canadian author and journalist Michael Rowe, along with a photo layout by celebrity photographer Eric Schwabel.

In September 2010, Roberts publicly criticised Aus- tralian swimming star Stephanie Rice for calling the South African rugby union team “faggots” on Twitter, branding her “a complete idiot”. [13]

3 Acting career

Roberts finished playing professional rugby league in 1998, and began studying at the National Institute of Dra- matic Art in Sydney. In 2003 he moved to the United States in search of acting opportunities. [14]

Roberts made a very brief cameo in the 2002 film Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones as a bartender working in the Outlander Club where Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker apprehend the bounty hunter Zam Wesell. In 2005, Roberts had a brief cameo in the Aus- tralian film Little Fish, starring Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, playing an ex-rugby league star. He appeared in the 2006 motion picture Superman Returns as Riley, a henchman of Lex Luthor.

In 2009, Roberts appeared in the Australian television mini-series Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, which retells real life events of the drug trade in the New South Wales town of Griffith between 1976–1987. The mini- series is a prequel to the 2008 mini-series Underbelly, which was about Melbourne gangland killings. Roberts has a role as a body guard for George Freeman (played by Peter O'Brien). The series began airing in NSW on 9 February 2009. Also in 2009, he starred in The Cut on ABC1 and had a small role in the film Cedar Boys. In 2012 Ian landed his first starring role in the film Saltwater, starring opposite Ronnie Kerr, which is also Ian’s first role playing a gay man. [15]

4 References

[1] Peter, O'Shea. “Out of the field”. The Advocate. Here Publishing. Retrieved 10 October 2011.

[2] “1986–1987 Lancashire Cup Final”. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.

[3] “1986–1987 John Player Special Trophy Final”. 31 December 2011. Retrieved 1 January 2012.

[4] Tim Bauer. “Atonement”. Good Weekend. Pyrmont, NSW: Fairfax Media (30 January 2010): pgs 17.

[5] “Ian Roberts”. Rugby League Project. Retrieved 31 Jan- uary 2010.

[6] Ritchie, Dean (19 September 2007). “Cowboys want ex- Manly players off judiciary”. The Daily Telegraph. Aus- tralia: News Limited. Retrieved 3 August 2010.


South Sydney Dream Team Archived 14 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine. from the official South Sydney web- site.


“Origin’s 25 greatest named”. Sydney Morning Herald. 30 March 2005. Retrieved 8 March 2010.

[9] Brad Walter (9 March 2014). “Ian Roberts says he has brain damage”. “Sydney Morning Herald”. Retrieved 24 May 2014.

[10] Paul Freeman (1997) Ian Roberts – Finding Out, Random House Australia ISBN 978-0-09183-336-7

[11] Erin Tennant (3 September 2008). “League player charged over on-field assault”. Ninemsn. Retrieved 13 February 2010.

[12] “Witness was grandstanding, says coroner”. The Sydney Morning Herald. 29 September 2006.


Robertson, Greg (7 September 2010). “Top Aussie swim- mer loses Jaguar over anti-gay tweet”. 3 News. Retrieved 4 October 2011.


[15] Sweetbriar, BeBe (29 May 2012). “Rugby great Ian Roberts takes first gay role in 'Saltwater'". www. Retrieved 23 January 2014.

5 Further reading

Freeman, Paul (1997). Ian Roberts: finding out. Australia: Random House. ISBN 0-09-183336-1. ISBN 9780091833367.



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