Roberts raring to go for Rio qualifiers
Published 26 April 2016 (AEDT)
VOLLEYBALL: For the third time in his volleyball career, Nathan Roberts turned up for a pre-Olympic training camp on the weekend.
The first time was 2004, when as an 18-year-old newbie he failed to make the cut for the final team.
Eight years later it was pre-London, and this time there was a happy ending. Roberts made the squad, and made his Olympic debut months later.
This time he’s very much the veteran, but at 30 he’s hardly in the old timer’s league.
Nonetheless, it’s a minor miracle Roberts is even in the running for Rio. The past couple of years, to put it mildly, have been horrendous.
“Since London, I hurt my knee in 2013 and that took a good year and a half to get better, and then I tore my calf, and that took a couple of months to get better, and then I had an issue with my elbow for the past 12 to 15 months,” he said.
“So it’s been a roller-coaster that has mainly been at the lower level, but hopefully the elbow feels alright, I still manage it a bit, but the surgery went really well.
Hopefully I’ll get a good couple of months training in before the qualifiers.”
This week members of the HelloWorld Volleyroos squad started rolling in from points all over the globe to the AIS training facility in Varesse, Italy.
They did the same thing four years ago, and that worked out well.
“Hopefully it’s a lucky charm,” Roberts said.
“We’re all pretty stoked to see each other again, and to hang out with the guys and speak some English.
“We’ve got some practice matches coming up against Norway, and then Italy, and we’re training three times a day, so there’s a fair bit going on.”
The full squad won’t get together for a couple of weeks yet, as several players are still involved in their domestic competitions.
But Italian-born Volleyroos coach, Roberto Santilli, is leaving no stone unturned preparing his team for the biggest challenge since taking over the role 14 months ago – Olympic qualification.
To get there Australia will need to finish top three at next month’s qualifier in Japan, or be at least the top-ranked Asian team.
Australia’s form against the top Asian teams in recent years has been patchy, but Roberts believes the Volleyroos have improved a lot.
“I don’t think we did that well at Asian Champs last year, or certainly not as well as we hoped, and we had mixed results at the World Cup,” he said.
“It certainly means we are not the favourites going into the tournament, which is just the way we like it.
“I don’t think anyone would discount anyone, but I think we have a lot more improvement than a lot of the other teams.”
Also working in the favour of the Australian side has been the exposure to top level volleyball.
Since London the men’s team has had two seasons in the prestigious World League, including last year in Group One alongside Brazil, Italy and Serbia.
It’s the sort of preparation veterans like Roberts only dreamed about before 2012.
“I think World League has been huge,” he said.
“I had eight or nine years without playing teams in World League, but the young guys who are coming through now are getting time against quality opposition.
“In terms of preparation, it’s a real step up to be playing against teams like Brazil.”
Roberts is easily the most experienced member of the team, and even though he hasn’t been officially given a mentoring role, he’s happy to use his experience to help guide younger team members.
“Since 2010 I’ve been one of the oldest guys in the team, so it’s nothing new,” he said.
“I really enjoy seeing the young guys come in and play their first matches, and score their first points, so I’m happy to help guide them if they’ll listen to me.”