Five-eighth Jamie Soward has been firing on all cylinders for Penrith this year. Credit: Charles Knight. Copyright: NRL Photos.
Most of us rugby league folk would never have heard of Eddie Betts, a small forward for the Adelaide Crows in the AFL. He's in his late 20s, stands about five foot eight in the old metric, and was once an Indigenous All Star in his code.
In many ways, Eddie Betts is the AFL's version of Jamie Soward.
Not only are they similar in age and height but, like Soward, Betts was also once a cult hero at his old club. Over his nine years at Carlton, the pocket rocket was adored by fans and teammates, twice leading the team in goals in a season.
But a falling out with coach Mick Malthouse last year ended in his dramatic exit from Princes Park in Melbourne and his decision to pursue his career elsewhere. A move Soward, who faces his old club St George Illawarra for the first time on Saturday night, can relate to.
"My opinion didn't really get much voice to it, if that makes sense. I'd been around for a while," Soward told NRL.com.
"Eddie Betts said when he moved from Carlton to Adelaide in the AFL that he used to stay stuff [at Carlton] and they'd jokingly put it out there. Whereas I feel like if I say something now, it's actually got a bit of voice to it and I feel like I get listened to."
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Soward spent seven seasons in Wollongong and was a key factor in their 2010 premiership triumph under mastercoach Wayne Bennett. But when the seven-time premiership-winning coach left for Newcastle, so did Soward's confidence and his influence on games, and his team.
His eventual demotion by then-coach Steve Price quickly ended in the prodigious five-eighth leaving the club, announcing a four-year deal with Penrith last April that included a pit stop in London.
"No player likes to hear that you're not wanted in the top squad, let alone the team. It was a tough time, but I'd like to think I handled it okay," he said.
"I really nestled into the family time and without them getting me through that tough period – my wife – I could've gone either way. I've come out the other side and I'd like to think I've come out here, started the year off good and I've got to keep building on that."
The 29-year-old, who played three games with NSW in 2011, admitted he started the season with a point to prove. He circled the reunion with the ex as soon as the schedule came out.
But, under the influence of new coach Ivan Cleary and Penrith kingpin Phil Gould, Soward describes his first seven months at the foot of the mountains as "settled" – a stark understatement to the vibrancy and energy he's re-ignited in his game.
"At the start of the year, I thought I'd be a lot more emotional and pumped up, but the way that we've come together out here and the way we've been playing, it's really settled me and taken my mind off that," he said.
"I'm actually looking forward to getting back home and playing. Saturday night 5.30pm, I'm not going to be thinking about the past seven years. I'm going to be thinking about what my job is for the next 80 minutes."
Late last month, Betts returned to Melbourne for his first meeting with his old club since leaving last summer. And while the Crows lost, Betts kicked four goals in front of his old crowd that, by all accounts, had treated him with respect.
Soward, forever a polarising figure in league land, doesn't expect a similar response from any of the Red V fans – if they can get into the ground.
"I cop it from everyone, please. I don't really care. I always said I don't care," he said.
"Sometimes it gets you down, sometimes it doesn't. What's the worst they can say? At the end of the day, last year didn't help, but I guess it all just happened so quickly.
"I guess the full story wasn't coming out which probably frustrated some people. If they [Red V fans] come out, hopefully they come out and get whatever tickets are left, because I know that the last time we played here we had 19,000. If we have 19,000 again, there might not be many tickets for the Dragons fans."