The realist in St George Illawarra five-eighth Jamie Soward doesn’t hold out much hope of being named in the Indigenous All Stars’ starting 13 when the side for next February’s third annual All Stars clash is announced at Redfern Oval on Wednesday.
Nevertheless, the New South Wales State of Origin representative told NRL.com he remained optimistic he could still contribute to the Indigenous cause coming off the bench for a third consecutive year.
Meanwhile on the club front Soward revealed rising star Kyle Stanley would most likely fill the Red V’s vacant fullback position after Darius Boyd’s move to Newcastle and Wests Tigers’ Tim Moltzen’s much-publicised decision to renege on a deal to head to Wollongong in 2012.
With Indigenous team captain Johnathan Thurston locked in at No.6, Soward has been involved in a tug-of-war with new Eel Chris Sandow and the Titans’ Scott Prince for the starting halfback position – with Sandow expected to get the nod.
Soward said the likely Indigenous side’s star-studded backline – which is expected to feature Test centres Justin Hodges and Greg Inglis for the first time – would be a huge drawcard for fans.
“Halfback obviously would be great to play in the Indigenous game but I think there’s a couple of good halfbacks ahead [of me] so hopefully I grab a bench spot,” Soward said.
“We haven’t had Hodgo and Greggie in the team the last couple of years at the same time so it’ll be good to have those guys there, they are world class centres and probably the best centres in the game.
“I can play hooker, so hopefully I get put in the forwards!” Soward said of his battle for inclusion. “Nah, just joking… those guys are all stars for their club team and they’ve all played at the highest level.
“It’s an exciting week for all the Indigenous boys to get in camp, because there are a few laughs and a few bus trips and stuff like that… I’ve been ‘owning’ JT in Euka [cards] the last couple of years, so I’m looking forward to getting back there.”
Soward said the importance of the lead-up to the All Stars clash should not be overlooked, in particular the dedicated Jobs Expo held at Southport the day before the game.
“I think it’s important for all the Indigenous kids, especially if you’re 15 or 16 and you don’t want to go on in school, then it’s important for you to go out and see the Expo,” he urged.
“The last couple of years we’ve been there it’s been really well run and there’s a lot of opportunities there for young kids. I mean, sport’s not everything. We’re lucky – we get to do what we love. But in saying that we’ve got to have a job when it finishes so it’s important for all the kids to get out there and have a look at the Expo, for sure.”
Soward had a strong message for kids entering their teens who might be restless in their young lives.
“Stay in school, definitely – and get your HSC because a lot of employers out there are looking for HSC students… and if not, they’re looking for people with discipline,” he said.
“Discipline is a massive part of what I do every day, so if you’re a young kid coming up and you’re not sure what you want to do, just get out in the workforce – there’s plenty of jobs out there, you just need to look.”
On the St George Illawarra front, Soward said 20-year-old Kyle Stanley loomed as the logical successor to Test star Darius Boyd at fullback.
When asked who might take over Boyd’s role in 2012, Soward replied “not Tom Moltzen”, hinting at the deep disappointment created by the Wests Tiger star’s controversial backflip.
More known as a five-eighth or centre, Soward said Kyle Stanley’s game resembled Boyd’s, which would help the gifted youngster shine in a new role as custodian.
“Kyle’s a great prospect,” Soward enthused. “Last year we all saw what he can do and even the year before that he played a few games. It’s just important for him to have a really big off-season and get bigger and stronger and he’ll probably make that No.1 spot his own.
“He’s very similar to Darius, he’s probably got a little bit better passing game, but he just needs to develop a few more things that fullback play does but I’m sure he’ll be a great addition to the Dragons.”
Soward said fans could expect a similar game plan from the Dragons in 2012 despite Wayne Bennett’s departure and the new coaching staff headed by Steve Price and his assistant, premiership-winning coach Steve Folkes.
“You know Pricey’s a young coach and he’s very enthusiastic, so we’re loving our time under Pricey, and especially under Folkesy,” he said.
“Being hands-on he can show you a few more things… he’s been around the traps, so the staff Pricey’s put together are all really good and complement each other. There’s no-one stepping on each other’s toes.
“I think in 2012 you’re going to see probably a little bit similar [from] the Dragons, but there might be a few changes,” he continued.
“I think Wayne’s philosophy of play has been instilled in us for three years and not much will change on that part because it was a winning formula. Pricey will have his own touches… we just need to wait and see.”
Soward says fitness is the key to him having a successful year.
“[My goal is] to try to get fully fit when the season comes around – this year just gone was a little bit sketchy for us with the trip to England [for the World Club Challenge].
“And I’d love to get another crack at Origin. I think we were close this year, despite what the Queenslanders might think,” he said. “I think Ricky Stuart’s got some really good plans in place there and he had the right mix of players there… we just couldn’t put it together on that final night, so I’d love another crack at that and see what happens from there.”
When asked if Wendell Sailor was still a motivator for the squad, Soward couldn’t resist a dig at his friend.
“Who? No he retired a couple of years ago... I keep telling everyone!” he joked.
“He was on Celebrity Apprentice if you didn’t see it, and he went pretty bad at it so… but no, Dell hangs around a bit… when we win we usually see him – but when we lose we don’t see him.”
As for what was said when the Dragons farewelled star centre Mark Gasnier, former coach Bennett and team-mate Boyd, Soward said: “I think we’d all said goodbye when we had a few drinks together after we lost in Brisbane. It’s not ‘goodbye’, it’s just sort of ‘see you later’, you know?
“Gaz is still going to be around the club and he’s obviously a massive name in the St George history. As for Wayne and Darius, you know they’re friends for life – Wayne stressed that when he left the club, that he’s only a phone call away. And that’s something we will all be able to use if we need to.”