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

THE BIG ISSUE: #38

The Big IssueBy STEVE MASCORD

EVEN if you are reading this the moment RLW hits the streets, there’s a good chance you’ll already be regarding the wall-to-wall ‘SBW v Canterbury’ hype as media overkill.

Friday’s game has been canvassed and foreshadowed for so many months that it’s going to be good for many league fans just to get it over and done with.

But it’s important to remember what happened in 2008 – and what didn’t. It was a MASSIVE story and sometimes our memories distort things. Here’s a few elements of Williams’ secret departure from the Bulldogs that have been lost in translation.

1. He left in “the dead of night”. Actually, it was a Saturday afternoon. Customs officials called rugby league open line radio programmes to report seeing him leave;

2. He paid a transfer fee. Well, he did eventually – after the Bulldogs kicked up a stink;

3. He went to London to get a Samoan passport, so he could play French rugby union. In fact, Williams had gone to Samoa in a trip partly organised by the Bulldogs in May of that year, where he made contact with government officials and started the ball rolling in securing a passport.

This reporter received a phone call in May at the Daily Telegraph. He asked if I was aware of the Samoan trip. I double checked with the Dogs and they said it had all been above board.

In my next conversation with the source, he insisted I wasn’t aware of the real reason for the trip and that it would be a big story.

He wanted money. I told my immediate superior, then told the source that to the best of my knowledge we did not pay for stories. That’s the last I heard from him.

I have no regrets about that – paying for stories is wrong in my opinion.

I will say it’s good to have Williams back in rugby league. I will also say it would have been much better had he never left.

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THERE aren’t two teams in the National Rugby League with more scrutiny and pressure than St George Illawarra and Brisbane.

The expectation on both to succeed must be intolerable and both coaches, Steve Price and Anthony Griffin, are following in the footsteps of a giant in Wayne Bennett.

In professional sport, expectation + poor results = criticism. Expectation + failure = the sack. If you are the coach or players at one of these two clubs, there are two variables in the equations above that are outside your control – expectation and criticism.

So they are things you can easily allow to annoy you and wear you down.

But the sun rising is outside your control too – that doesn’t make it any less inevitable. A successful club will get criticised if they are not successful in the short term and a coach will get sacked if his results are not up to scratch in the long term.

Actually, nowdays, make that the medium term.

Griffin last year seemed a likeable larrikin who seemed happy to do his best and let the cards fall where they may. This season, he seems more uptight. The Broncos have the look of a club battening down for a tough year. It was good to hear him talking at the end of his last interview on Friday about seeing his family and relaxing after a much-needed win.

If we’re talking body language, Price seems to be taking the opposite trajectory. Despite having his job offered to someone else and starting the year with three losses, he’s got his sense of humour back and is showing outsiders a glimpse of his personality for the first time.

The fact is, critics always lose because the team they bag always wins eventually. To follow professional sports – a bunch of adults dressed up like kids chasing a bladder around – you have to suspend disbelief somewhat, like going to a pantomime.

We all play roles that have been played for more than a century and the way we all interact is pretty much pre-ordained. In the grand scheme of things, it matters not. Football is just entertainment.

Sports critics will always be pantomime villains. We know it. But we love it.

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WHEN Jamie Soward collided with Chris Houston on Sunday and WIN Jubilee, there was mirth. It was an unusual, accidental, David-and-Goliath encounter that left Houston wobbly-legged.

Weaned on Roadrunner cartoons, we are conditioned to think of people (or coyottes) wandering around not knowing where they are as funny. We even have an image of tweety birds circling heads and friendly expressions like ‘in Disneyland’.

These clichés are as outdated as the cartoons they once featured in. Concussion is now clearly linked to dementia and early death.

It doesn’t help that we process a punch-up on the field completely differently to one we see in the street. In public, we would call 000 if we saw bare-knuckle fighting. On the field, we cheer and laugh.

But if we are to ever deal with concussion in rugby league properly, we have to learn to be horrified and worried any time we see the slightest hint of disorientation from a player after a collision.

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE WRAP: NRL Round Five

NRL logoBy STEVE MASCORD
WHAT constitutes a slump? And how to teams get out of them?
North Queensland, St George Illawarra and Brisbane are three of which much is expected in our competition each year. Over the three weeks in the lead-up to round five, they had just victories between them.
All had wins over the weekend, relieving scrutiny and pressure on their coaches and players. It’s four years since a side with a 1-4 record has made the finals
“It’s more of a confidence thing,” Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough tells NRL.com in the wake of a 32-12 win over Gold Coast.
“Obviously, we’ve been copping it in the paper. It’s all part of the Broncos standard which is probably a good thing. It just comes with the territory.
“But we’re going along alright.”
Criticism can be used as a motivator, McCullough says. It’s down to the individual. “You can go either way with that.
“Hook (coach Anthony Griffin) is always on us about how good you’re going and how bad you’re going. You just believe what they (coaching staff) have to say. If they say something, you listen.”
The big area where the Broncos have improved? “Just composure. We’ve got to back ourselves. The games we lost … the Roosters put 50 on Parra, they beat us 8-0. Manly? We let ourselves down after leading that game. Melbourne, we went well there.
“So we’re not going as bad as people think.”
North Queensland coach Neil Henry said after the 30-0 shutout of Penrith on Saturday that it was a little early in the year to have “must win” games – but the Cowboys were at the point of “please, please win”.
“I wouldn’t say it was a good way (to win) but there’s points on the board, a clean sheet and that’s pleasing,” said centre Brent Tate.
“Sometimes you’ve got to win them like that to kickstart you.
“I just thought our ball control at times is still really letting us down. We put a lot of pressure on them defensively. We’re stil a little off with our attack but that will come.
“If we toss ball control like that up against good teams, you can’t hold them out no matter how good your defence is.
“The fe
Tate doesn’t know why his men have hit an early-season wall. “You can’t explain that sort of thing, it just happens,” he says.
“The feeling I have is that we need to improve. I think that’s the feeling across the board.”
For whatever reason, coach Steve Price has borne the brunt of the Dragons winless opening three weeks. That turned around against Sydney neighbours Cronulla in round four and the revival continued against Steel City rivals Newcastle on Sunday.
At Sharks stadium, says five-eighth Jamie Soward, “we were under the pump and needed to come out and stand up for ourselves.
read on

RLW MEDIA RELEASE: Issue 12 2012

WIGAN CHASE SOWARD, McGAHAN SLAMS TAMOU, BENJI’S EDICT, MANLY HURDLE

WIGAN are to chase St George Illawarra and NSW five-eighth Jamie Soward, The Mole reveals in Rugby League Week.

Soward is under contract next year and the Dragons want to keep him but are under salary cap pressure. The Mole writes that Soward could ask for a release. Agent Sam Ayoub says: “Jamie isn’t going anywhere at this stage.”

Elsewhere in RLW, former New Zealand captain Hugh McGahan has slammed Australia’s selection of James Tamou for the Anzac Test.
“It’s crazy – it makes a joke of the game at international level,” McGahan tells League Week.

“It’s just plain silly for a bloke to go from being a Kiwi one year to an Aussie the next and a lot of people in the game must be wondering what’s going on. I bet there are plenty of Aussie front rowers who aren’t impressed either.”

But Kiwis skipper Benji Marshall says retribution against Tamou won’t be on the agenda at Eden Park tomorrow night.

“We probably got caught up in a little bit of scuffling and our attitudes weren’t good enough (during the Four Nations), in terms of discipline,” Marshall says. “We can’t afford to get caught up in that again.

“I mean, we are representing our country and the expectation from home is massive. We just have to fulfil that and not let each other down.”

And Manly could be about to lose hooker Matt Ballin and prop Darcy Lussick to rival clubs. Lussick rejected an offer from the club last week.

“Manly face some challenges and it’s a real difficult question to ask me because I don’t write the cheques or manage their cap,” Ballin’s agent, George Mimis, says.

Plus … Johnathan Thurston, Feleti Mateo, Todd Carney, Scott Prince, The Big Issue, golf with the Canberra Raiders, Jayson Bukuya, Ben Murdock-Masila, Peter Wallace, Zeb Taia, Richard Fa’aoso, Nick Skinner, Steve Martin Legend Q&A, Brian Bevan Golden Moment, Paul Hayward retrospective, Gareth Hock plus the best in rugby league pictures, stats and features from around the globe!

ONLY IN RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK, OUT TODAY ACROSS AUSTRALASIA!


The A-List: JAMIE SOWARD (St George Illawarra, Country, Indigenous All Stars & NSW)

Criticised ... Jamie Soward

Criticised … Jamie Soward

By STEVE MASCORD

IT’s 10.15 PM on March 19, outside the St George Illawarra dressingrooms at WIN Stadium. Rugby League Week is interviewing Jamie Soward.

“Hey Soward!” a man in a Bulldogs jersey shouts from behind the wired gate in the southern grandstand. “At least you didn’t take a dive tonight.”

The 25-year-old Dragons five-eighth bristles. “I didn’t last time either, brother.” Security is called and the heckler is led away.

Cut to last week, just up the stairs from where the confrontation took place. Soward is talking to RLW again, while a platoon of team-mates has massages in the sun a few feet away.

“It’s disappointing when people have to have a shot at you,’’ he says. “You were standing there, the game was finished. I was by myself and it’s disappointing someone had to make themeselves feel better by having a go at me because I hadn’t said anything to him.”

The pest’s reference, of course, was the end of the 2009 regular season, when a contentious penalty against the Bulldogs after Soward was felled in backplay denied the Belmore men a match and probably the minor premiership.

“There was a lot of stuff … away from that game that happened to myself, my family that we didn’t deserve,’’ Soward, who describes himself as “pretty intense”, continues.

“At the end of the day, I don’t make the decisions. I just play the game

“… you can say whatever you want when the game’s on but when the game’s finished I should just be able to walk home and enjoy my life like a normal person.”

Asked exactly what treatment his family was subjected to, Sowards answers: “I don’t want to go much into it but yeah, they copped it. You were there, you saw it.

“I still get the milkman calls and all that. That’s fine. That’s just people being passionate and I support that. I am a passionate person. I know the Dragons fans are passionate.”

And herein lies the reason Jamie Soward is probably the most interesting man in the National Rugby League. While many contemporaries shut themselves off from the white noise of football punditry between training and games, and even look down their noses at the beanie brigaders, the “niffnuffs”, Soward is an entirely different beast.

Jamie Soward lives rugby league. Jamie Soward IS a niffnuff – and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

It’s an unfortunate coincidence that the one player who devours the most criticism of rugby league players is the one of the rugby league players who attracts the most criticism.

On the other hand, he’s also – officially – the most loved player in the NRL ,as his 2009 Peoples Choice Award will attest.

This afternoon in Wollongong, Soward makes the following two statements within 60 seconds of each other. I kid you not.

1. “Chokers is a harsh tag … you see that stuff and it hurts you and it drives you.”

2. “If you’re worried about outside stuff, what’s going on, what people are saying, you’re not worrying about your job. Your job is to win football games.”

The fact is: Jamie Soward is more likely to be motivated by criticism because he’s more likely to be aware of it. My voice recorder shows 1:59 when the world “choked” is first raised – and it’s by Jamie, not by me.

“Everyone wants us to fail,” he says defiantly. “Everyone wants to be able to say ‘they choked again’ or whatever. ‘They lost’. For us, we really couldn’t care less what everyone else is thinking.

“(Last year) it hurt to a certain extent because people came out and said we were chokers but half of the squad hadn’t played finals footy before. It’s a learning curve. Chokers is a harsh tag because there’s 15 other teams that didn’t win the comp. People say ‘you’ve got pressure on you to win the comp this year because you didn’t last year’. No we don’t. We don’t have any pressure.

“That’s the point I try to make. For us, it was disappointing that so many people came out and had an opinion whereas … 14 teams didn’t make the grand final. It wasn’t only us. It wasn’t like everyone else got the prize and we didn’t. “

That’s a subject most of his team-mates wouldn’t dream of delving into. But like we said, Jamie Soward sees football pretty much the same way you do – and likes being criticised, heckled and ridiculed about as much as you do, too.

He’s got that slogan on his strapping, ‘Don’t Carry Your Divots’, hasn’t he?

“I’d like to think I don’t need it now. I’d like to think I’m changing to where I just do it. I don’t have to write it down there,’’ he says, before adding: “but I’m probably a little way off that yet.

“I used to sort of write ‘believe in yourself’ which is just a reminder, that you’re out here and if you weren’t good enough, then the coach wouldn’t pick you.”

If Soward reads all the headlines, he also makes them. There was the time senior players requested Ben Rodgers play in a semi-final in his place (“It was just a decision that Brownie and a few of the senior players made. It’s gone now”), a biting allegation involving Matt Ballin (“There’s a difference between going out to bite someone and if someone’s got their hand in your mouth”) and of course being palmed off by Greg Inglis in round one last year.

But he says “footy hasn’t been the worst time I’ve had. I’ve had other things in my life that have gone heaps worse for me.” (Soward lost his father Peter to a heart attack in 2005).

“I guess I’ve, after last year, quietened a few people … I still get my knockers which is still pretty funny but I’d like to think I’ve been a lot more consistent the last three years.

“Wally Lewis, in his story, he talks about when he comes to Sydney and people boo him, he used to love that. He used to get high off that feeling, of knowing that whole crowd was against him. They didn’t want him to win. Then he goes out and … what he did on the footy field was amazing. I guess I took a little bit of a leaf out of his book, only in the last couple of years. Earlier on, it probably got to me a bit.”

It’s a slightly bleak world view, Jamie’s. I ask if he ever stops to think about all the kids wearing head gear because of him, all the shuffling and toe-stubbing that goes on before goalkicks because of him, the fact there is a Jamie Soward action figure.

Surely that makes yobbos yelling insults pale into insignificance.

He nods. “I probably thought about it a little bit last year when I won the People’s Choice Award, which was pretty humbling. Up until that stage, I thought a lot more people hated me than liked me.

“I guess I just go out there and try and play hard each week. I’m not saying I’m perfect off the field either. I’ve gone out and had a good time and stuff. But it’s about trying to be a good role model and do the best you can.

“I guess the easiest way to sum it up is you either love or hate Jamie Soward. There’s no in between. There’s no fans that say ‘he’s alright but ….’ this and that.

“As much as I’d rather more people love than hate me, I still respect the people who hate because that’s their opinion.”

Just don’t share that opinion with Jamie after 9.30pm, OK?

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK