Soward making Thurston-like impact: Segeyaro
You can count on one hand the amount of blokes Jamie Soward has had in his corner over the years, such is the division the emotional five-eighth creates within the rugby league community.
Whether any of it has been fair or not, the criticism has followed him throughout his entire career like an unsightly birthmark. The scepticism even reached as far as the UK, where the six-month London Bronco was welcomed with a "Taxi for Soward" chant during a 70-0 loss to Wigan.
But even as an NSW Origin player, fair-weather Blues fans opted for the road most travelled, doubting Soward's credentials as a representative player before pulling on a blue jumper.
For so long, it's wasn't so much the age-old question of whether you loved him or you hated him as much as it was whether anyone could simply put up with Soward long enough to figure out whether or not it worked out.
But even when the Dragons – or more to the point, coach Wayne Bennett – eventually found out that it did, the leash given to Soward still wasn't long enough for their premiership-winning maestro to finish off his deal at St George Illawarra.
Somewhere along the line Panthers GM Phil Gould convinced his football department that the divisive playmaker still had so much petrol left in that tank – four years worth, in fact – that he could turn around the fortunes of one of the most under-achieving clubs in the country.
And just a month into the pre-season, that belief has filtered down to the playing squad with Soward's new teammates lauding the leadership their new on-field general has brought since his arrival at the foot of the mountains.
"Jamie's brought a lot already," hooker James Segeyaro told NRL.com. "It's not just his big head, but his aura. He's smart. He's won a premiership and played State of Origin so he's got a lot of experience.
"But it's not just that. He's everything we need in this team – that dominant number six or seven. At training, we're looking crisp. He definitely brings something more to the table."
It's important to remember here how close Gould was to signing future Immortal Johnathan Thurston last April.
He was arguably the Kangaroos' best player in the World Cup, and Panthers fans must still be wondering how different their future would've looked if it was Thurston strapping on the headgear next season rather than Soward.
But Segeyaro, who spent two years feeding the Maroons champion in North Queensland, described Soward's impact as JT-like during the first few weeks of the summer.
"It's that kind of dominance. He's a lot like JT in that he tells you when he wants the ball and how he wants it," Segeyaro said.
"It's all little things. He gives you a job and you stick to that job. Compared to last year, he makes things a lot easier. He's definitely a lot like how Johnno is, a class player. They just sit back and know when to go and not to go.
"He's brought that maturity into the sessions we have. Myself and Moyza [fullback Matt Moylan] are always learning from him, discussing what we need to work on during the next session or looking at videos looking for things to tweak. We're building a nice little base going into the season."
Soward has never been the most popular player in the competition, and he probably never will be. His unbridled, sometimes over-the-top passion can either inspire you or rile you up. But for now at least, Segeyaro and the rest of the Panthers are in his corner.