NRL: Soward signs with Panthers

Jamie Soward. Photo / Getty Images
Jamie Soward. Photo / Getty Images

When Phil Gould was coaching NSW he used young Sydney Roosters five-eighth Jamie Soward to perform the role of Darren Lockyer in training as he prepared his side to face Queensland for the 2004 State of Origin series.

Fast forward nine years and Gould, now the general manager of Penrith, has persuaded the 28-year-old former Blues playmaker to leave St George Illawarra and join his rebuilding plan at the foot of the Blue Mountains from the start of the 2014 NRL season.

In a move described by Gould as a "marquee signing" for the Panthers, it ends a successful seven-year spell for Soward at the Dragons, highlighted by the 2010 premiership.

It also opens the door for the joint-venture to make a big play for Cronulla playmaker Todd Carney, who ousted Soward from his NSW No.6 shirt last year, and is the most high-profile name off contract at the end of this year.

The Sharks remain confident of re-signing Carney, after throwing him a lifeline following his sacking by the Roosters in 2011.

However, the investigation by the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) halted negotiations after general football manager Darren Mooney, who was working with Carney's representatives, was sacked along with three other members of the backroom staff.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan insists Carney will re-sign, with talks restarting after Steve Noyce joined the club as football manager and said the news of Soward departure from the Dragons will make no difference to their discussions.

"The Dragons made an approach to Todd and Todd wants to stay (at Cronulla)," Flanagan told AAP.

"And we want him to stay here and we're getting the deal done.

"The Dragons never made Jamie Soward an offer so they knew he was going.

"The Soward thing isn't an issue for us."

When asked whether the club was a couple of weeks or months away from making an announcement regarding Carney, Flanagan was forthright: "Days," he said.

Soward said he was sad to be leaving the Dragons but after the club made no attempt to keep him he had to look after himself.

"This was definitely a big decision for me as I love the Dragons but as I have always said, I needed to make a decision about what was in the best interests for me and my future," Soward said.

"I am absolutely committed to the Dragons, my coach and teammates for the remainder of this season and will enjoy every minute of the rest of the year."

Soward's teammate Trent Merrin said he was disappointed by the news, but backed him to keep to keep producing for the joint-venture until the end of the season.

"I am good mates with Sowie and I am happy to see him sort things out," Merrin said in Coffs Harbour, where he's preparing for the City-Country Origin clash on Sunday.

"He's a great professional and I have no doubts whatsoever that his mind will be focused on the Dragons for the rest of the year."

- AAP

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