Soward out to help his rival
Penrith playmaker Jamie Soward has expressed regret at not providing more guidance to the team's youngsters during an injury-wrecked 2015 season – and has set about remedying that by taking under his wing the man out to take his place in the team.
The Panthers went to lengths to score the signature of in-demand youngster – and Junior Kiwis five-eighth – Te Maire Martin from the Wests Tigers.
Martin recently told NRL.com that the chance to learn off senior halves Soward and Peter Wallace was a big factor in his decision to move out west rather than to a number of other clubs chasing his services, and added that Soward wasted no time in showing him some guidance and offering to help with kicking sessions outside of scheduled club training.
For his part, Soward – who also hosed down reports he was at one stage on the outer at Penrith and looking to get out of the last two years of his contract – had nothing but praise for the 20-year-old he would now be both preparing for, and trying to keep out of, Penrith's first grade side.
"He's a lovely kid, I shared a coffee the other day with him. He seems like a switched on kid, he's got a lot of talent and obviously he's going to play plenty of first grade games," Soward said.
"It's going to be up to myself and 'Wal' to get ready and get fit and hopefully I guess keep him out. From what I've seen of him and what I've heard of him, it's nice to have some younger guys coming through in the halves."
The club's lack of depth in the halves had been exposed in an injury-hit 2015 and Martin could be the solution if injuries strike in 2016.
"It was disappointing last year on the field and probably some of the younger guys there I could have helped a bit more when times got really tough so I wanted to start on the right note," Soward said of his mentoring role with Martin.
"With 'T' coming in it's going to be a huge plus and we'll have heaps of depth in the halves so if I can help him at the start of his career get a little bit better in some aspects he might be able to help me (as well) so I'm looking forward to working with him.
"Hopefully if I do some work with him now and he goes on to play first grade next year then I might be able to look back and [know that] I helped him in some way."
The paradox of helping Martin for the good of his team while simultaneously creating a threat to his own job security didn't faze Soward, who insisted his fate was in his own hands.
"Myself and Wal have been around for a long time now so as much as it is competition and you want to keep your spot in the team, I'm sure 'Hook' (coach Anthony Griffin) will pick the best 17 on the day and whether we're in that or not is going to be entirely up to us," he said.
"As an older guy you want to help those young guys as much as you can and if they beat you out then you've got to still have that drive to get yourself right but also support the team and make sure you support them because at the end of the day we're all training now for that one day in October and you could use everyone in the squad that's in there now so as long as we all get success that's the main thing."
Soward – who turns 31 this week – is the oldest man in a very young squad that is high on talent and low on experience.
"The squad we've got this year is very young, I think I'm the oldest this year and I'm only just turning 31 so it's a very young squad and I think the whole squad we've got there is very talented," Soward said.
"All the older guys that have played a couple of years of first grade need to make sure we're all on the same page so if we do strike injuries that those young guys can bring their enthusiasm and skill and make sure we don't get behind the eight ball."
Soward dismissed suggestions there had been any realistic chance of him leaving Penrith early with two years to run on his current contract.
"Yeah I had a chat with 'Gus' (Panthers Executive General Manager Phil Gould) in the break and sorted out whether I was really committed to finishing off my career. It was a good honest chat," Soward said.
"I thought it was more of a friendly chat than anything else and obviously you guys in the media pumped it up a little bit but I addressed it straight away and Gus did too on Twitter, so to me there was no issue.
"I went away and thought about things. I need to recommit myself to the game and make sure this young crop we've got out here comes through the way that Gus and Penrith want them to and I can contribute to that.
"I'm really focused, I came back probably fresher mentally than I have in a pre-season in a while."
Soward said he'd love to finish his career at the Panthers and whether he looked to sign a new deal beyond 2017 would be a conversation for later down the track.
"I think the best thing about being an older guy is that it's in my control, I've got the runs on the board, it's a matter of getting fit and making sure when the Round 1 team is picked I'm firing so Hook can pick me," he said.