Jamie’s Slim London Pickings

P1030071By STEVE MASCORD

FROM here, Jamie Soward could throw the ball over the crossbar.

We are sitting on the rock hard surface of the Richardson Evans Memorial Ground, training headquarters of the London Broncos, just over 20 metres out and to the right of the posts.

Of course, Penrith recruit Soward would not attempt to throw it over. Instead, he’d step back at right angles to the ball, extend his fingers like a sprinter, jog on the spot, and move in to strike the pigskin before replacing his headgear.

Squinting in the sunshine, he says one such goal attempt – missed – brought about the premature end of his St George Illawarra career.

“I guess I was disappointed I was dropped the week after I missed a penalty goal against Canterbury,” says the 28-year-old,

“Tough game, they’re a great team and we were in the game for only the last 10 minutes, really. So we didn’t really deserve to win.

“(But) It’s never one thing that breaks up a relationship.”

Soward was criticised for cutting his losses and not playing out the season with the Illawarra Cutters. The joint venture’s results since suggest he would have got another chance in first grade, where his long kicking game has been missed.

“I think that was a bit of loyalty from Dousty (chief executive Peter Doust),” the man himself says. ”He didn’t want to see me playing reserve grade for the rest of the year and having to answer questions week-in and week-out and I didn’t want to do that either.

“The results back home for the Dragons have probably stayed the same.

“Obviously the circumstances of a player signing for a rival club for the rest of the year is not ideal but in saying that, I’m a business, myself, and I need to look after my family going forward.

“Some people understood that. Some people weren’t happy with it. If I ask you the same question: if I give you security for the next four years, five years, are you going to take it or are you going to roll the dice?

“The relationship between myself and Dragons had been great while we had been winning. It was just a tough start to the year. All that sort of combined with me signing.”

The man with the Dragon tattoo – a 2010 premiership tattoo on an inside biceps – played off the bench a few hours after landing in London and endured a 70-0 Challenge Cup semi-final flogging at the hands of Wigan.

The Broncos play before tiny crowds – their entire season home attendance equals roughly one game at Suncorp Stadium by their Brisbane namesakes – and there is intense speculation their owner David Hughes will withdraw support and they won’t be in Super League next year.

“This experience has taught me about patience,” says Soward, about halfway through a wide-ranging chat conducted at the end of training.

“Sometimes I guess I’ve said the wrong thing or it’s came out the wrong way. I’ve had to really sit back and take it all in whilst losing and I’m learning quickly because I’m only here for a short time.

“I feel a lot more relaxed than I was back home. I guess the fishbowl effect gets to you and slowly, I think – keeping an eye on the game back home – some of the media’s starting to understand that.

“It is 24-7, your job. You get paid well and we do understand we’re role models but we need to work together to grow our game. You need to work on your game and I need to work on my game.”

Soward is a magnet for criticism, perhaps because – as a general sports nut who wants to work in the media upon retirement – he is acutely aware of it and all too happy to engage his detractors.

When he quotes Wally Lewis on the subject of dealing with critics, those critics think he is comparing himself to the The King as a player.

Even in the Challenge Cup semi, there were reports of him jousting with fans, who chanted ‘taxi for Soward“

“It said that I spat at the crowd but I just turned around riled them up a little bit – just a little bit of fun,” he explains.

“I think most media people that sit down and talk to me one-on-one realise that I’m not the prickly guy that (I am when I) get 10 people in front of him, asking why we keep losing.

“I couldn’t understand their chants so the one I did understand, I just turned around and … taxi’s universal, isn’t it?

“Back home, there’s a lot more fans. Being at St George, you might go to a function and there’s 2000 fans who want to talk to you after you’ve played.

“Sometimes, I’ve probably not been in the mood and I haven’t wanted to talk to every single person but they keep the game going.

“I’m just human. I’m not in a good mood every day and I don’t say the right things every day. I’m seeing a lot more support for the players, especially since the new TV deal’s come in.

“The media want more access but they have to realise that we’ve got careers we’ve got to protect and if we’re getting bagged every day then it’s not going to help either of us, really.”

Soward says he speaks to some Dragons players daily and that he’s looking forward to learning the names of his new Penrith team-mates (“like the first day at school”), although in truth he probably already knows their weights, heights and nicknames.

He’s tried shutting footy culture out, he says, but it doesn’t work for him

“When I come up against the Dragons, I guess I’ll get booed. But what’s the difference? I get booed everywhere I go.

“I’m not a big head by any stretch. If I say it, I say it how it is. If I get booed, I get booed. I was happy they even knew who I was, over here. It’s all good fun, mate.

“I need to be more relaxed and the media probably need to take me less seriously.”

Filed for: SUN-HERALD

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