Happy Soward strikes form at Penrith
Panthers five-eighth Jamie Soward has been outspoken throughout his career, and it should come as no surprise the veteran saw his 2014 season in a different light compared to most.
The bluntly honest 30-year-old reckons enjoying his football was his highest priority upon arriving at the Panthers at the beginning of last year, and his good form followed on from there.
As fate would have it, Soward captained the mountain men to a preliminary final berth last year to cap off one of his more memorable NRL seasons to date after regular skipper Peter Wallace finished the year early due to a knee injury – but for the former Dragon it was just a matter of being happy.
"It's probably the most I've enjoyed my footy in a long time," Soward told NRL.com.
"I enjoyed playing under Wayne [Bennett]. I had good seasons under him and I'm enjoying playing under Ivan. I really love it out here and in 2015 it will hopefully get better."
The doubters were in full voice before he had even thrown on a Penrith jumper, but Soward said he went back to simply enjoying life on the football field so much that his form was a product of his own happiness.
Only 18 months ago Soward was dumped to NSW Cup then released by the Dragons, but now it's easy to tell that he's a changed man to the point where he now can't wait for the NRL to recommence in March.
"It's funny, you sort of learn things as you go in your career and you want to always be at your best all the time, but there are a lot of ups and downs. From the period between 2013 and 2014 everyone was like 'oh how's he going to come back?'," Soward said.
"But you could see… Penrith's game plan was pretty simple and we were trying really hard and winning games. I wasn't doing anything that I wasn't doing before. I was just enjoying my football more, so that excitement about wanting to play on the weekends came back.
"When you have that mindset towards your footy and have your footy life sorted then everything else sort of falls into place and that's what's happened and because of that I'm really happy out here."
After such a promising first year at the club, Soward realises the expectations on himself and the club in 2015, which he said is a natural thing. However, he doesn't buy into the idea Penrith should be strong again solely because of their top-four finish last year.
"There is always going to be massive expectations put on us to do well and everyone was saying 'one game away' [from the grand final] and all this stuff but the way I see it everyone was on the same page," Soward said.
"I don't see it as we were one game away from the grand final, I see it as we were with the 14 other teams that didn't win the competition. As far as I'm concerned, Souths were the best team last year and they reaped the rewards so I'm not worried about being 'one game away', we just didn't win."
Don't be fooled though, Soward is hungrier than ever to get back onto the football field – he's enjoying it too much not to be.