NRL: Dragons no fun - Soward

By Ben Horne

Dragons fans have been mixed in their response to the signing of Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images
Dragons fans have been mixed in their response to the signing of Benji Marshall. Photo / Getty Images

St George Illawarra Dragons fans are the most unforgiving in the NRL.

Benji Marshall is finding that out even before he's played a game.

Jamie Soward is enjoying life without them.

The Penrith five-eighth has revealed he was made to feel alone in his final years in the red V and, until now, hadn't enjoyed his football since Wayne Bennett left the Dragons back in 2011.

After parting ways with the Dragons midway through last year, Soward had a brief stint with the London Broncos.

Results were poor but a more low-key experience in the English Super League allowed him to release the pressure valve and appreciate how intense and trying his existence had been at the Dragons.

Upon recruiting Soward, Penrith boss Phil Gould described the 30-year-old as a marquee signing and general manager Phil Moss made him feel as though he was joining a family.

Soward was back to his classy best in Sunday's comprehensive win over Newcastle, and said the more supportive Penrith fanbase had also played a role in reigniting his career.

"I'm really enjoying my football. And I haven't enjoyed it since ... Wayne left," Soward said. "I loved the playing group I was with [at the Dragons] but I wasn't enjoying my footy. The best thing is I don't feel alone any more. I feel the whole [Panthers] club is with me and they'll help protect me."

Soward was a central figure in the Dragons' landmark premiership win in 2010 and had several impressive seasons for the club, yet fans never seemed to appreciate the playmaker and rejoiced when he walked out the door midway through last year.

Returning from his failed venture in rugby, New Zealand great Marshall is experiencing a similarly harsh reaction, even though the Dragons are languishing near the bottom of the table and have chopped and changed halfbacks on a regular basis.

Marshall hasn't strapped on a boot, but he's already under enormous pressure to perform - perhaps starting with Saturday's match against Parramatta if given a late call up - as there has been mixed fan reaction to his signing.

Soward didn't want to concern himself with Dragons business but says the criticism won't affect Marshall.

"He's won a premiership, a World Cup and Four Nations. He's done everything in the game. He's not going to worry about what the press is saying or whatever," Soward said. "It's good for the game he's back and I'm sure he'll put bums on seats for the Dragons."

Stuart rings the changes at Raiders

At sixes and sevens over their halves, Canberra assistant coach Dean Pay admits dumped five-eighth Jack Wighton is still considered the Raiders' solution at pivot.

Pay said the whole squad should be "on their toes" when Raiders coach Ricky Stuart cut down a 21-strong squad named for Sunday's NRL home clash with Penrith.

But Pay claimed Wighton was still rated as a five-eighth despite being relegated to the centres after a failed nine-game halves experiment with skipper Terry Campese.

Josh McCrone moves from hooker to halfback with an out-of-sorts Campese swapping the No 7 jersey for No 6 against the Panthers following back-to-back NRL hidings that prompted speculation over Stuart's future.

"I think the whole squad is on their toes at the moment. After the last couple of weeks so they should be," Pay said. "We have had some changes this week and it was due."

Stuart dumped three players and made several positional changes but the jury was out on who would don Canberra colours with the likes of exciting halfback Mitch Cornish named on an extended bench.

"We are still in the process of making a final decision on who will actually play," Pay said. However, he said one of the few certainties was Wighton playing in the centres against Penrith but could not rule out a halves return for the playmaker.

"He will stay there (in the centres). Hopefully he will give us some more strike on that edge," he said. "[But] we still think he is a six. He just needs a little bit more confidence back."

Players came out in support of Stuart on Monday after Canberra (3-6 record) conceded 108 points, including 18 tries and missed 59 tackles in their last two matches.

Their woeful season start was compounded by rising superstar Anthony Milford confirming he would honour a two-year deal with Brisbane from 2015.

- Laine Clark

- AAP

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