Dragons let the NRL down

Dragons NRLThe St George Illawarra Dragons have surprised everybody in the Rugby League world this week by flatly refusing to participate in the annual ‘Rugby League Summertime’ promotion that runs on Foxtel each pre-season.

In what is an extremely poor stance by the Dragons, the club has refused to allow David Tapp and his production company into the club to interview players and coaching staff for the 30 minute editorial that runs on Foxtel in the leadup to the NRL season.

Every other NRL club has taken part in this production and many fans look forward to an inside look into their club as the pre-season winds down towards the kick off of the season proper.

It’s totally free publicity for the clubs, with the cameras providing valuable exposure for club sponsors and business partners.

Surely Dragons sponsors such as the St George Bank and Reebok would be ringing club boss Peter Doubst to ask why the club wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to access free airtime and push the brands of the clubs backers?

At first St George Illawarra offered no excuse for the refusal, however after further questions were asked – the club said they were unimpressed with the format of the series from last year and wanted greater control over the production.

This excuse is laughable.

David Gallop should be on the phone to the Dragons and demanding answers over this refusal – as every other NRL club has done their bit to promote the game prior to the season and offered fans wide reaching access through Tapp’s production for Fox Sports.

At a time when membership to NRL clubs is being fiercely promoted, it would have been ideal for the Dragons to mention this on the free airtime.

It’s hard to imagine teams from rival sporting codes refusing free airtime, certainly a 30 minute slot on a popular sports segment.

This continues an unsatisfactory trend in recent times with the Dragons. It hasn’t helped the media cause having Wayne Bennett at the club. While Bennett is improving, as seen with his All Stars Involvement  – he has a hell of a long way to go.

Look at  the Darius Boyd interview from last season. The single word answers and almost disrespectful interview made NRL and Rugby League a laughing stock in the eyes of other codes.

Wake up Saints, this latest stance is unacceptable not just to the NRL as a whole, but especially to your lifeblood – your sponsors and your fans.

Parra to put cash before points

Parramatta StadiumThe Parramatta Eels club are currently in talks to move their opening round Friday night match against the Dragons to ANZ Stadium Homebush to cater to an estimated 40,000 fans.

But what price can a club put on a homeground advantage? What is the cost of 2 competition points?

While there is never any guarantee that a home side will win, surely Paul Osborne and the Eels officials understand that playing at Parramatta Stadium in front of 20,000 predominantly Eels fans gives his side a much greater edge over the Dragons?

Cast your mind back to the first round of the NRL finals last year. The Eels faced the Dragons and while the 8th place Parramatta side upset Minor Premiers St George Illawarra in that match, there was no way the Saints were relinquishing their homeground and rightly so.

Playing at home is a major advantage, but sides like the Eels and more recently the Wests Tigers continue to take the cash over the advantage and move their games to grounds such as ANZ at Homebush.

The other consideration is the ticketed members. Club fans pre-purchased their season tickets and while they are provided seats at the alternate venue, its never the same as the home ground. This potential move to ANZ is a slap in the face for Eels members as they prepare to watch their team in Round 1.

The Dragons on the other hand would be loving the opportunity to rally up 15,000 – 20,000 fans to overthrow the homeground advantage the Eels had. They would be crazy not to gather in big numbers and turn this totally into an away game for the Parramatta side.

While NRL clubs are regularly under financial pressure and cannot resist the pay day of large gate takings offered by ANZ Stadium, sometimes they need to think of the bigger picture.

By forfeiting the home ground, you put a lesser value on the 2 competition points. And as we all know, in the closest competition of all, 2 points in many cases means the difference between making the Top 8 and missing the finals. Just ask the Wests Tigers who learnt that the hard way last season.

It’s a case of short term pain for longer gain, a securing of the 2 points will mean much more of a payday many weeks down the line.

Sharks need plenty of luck

Ricky Stuart Cronulla Shars NRLThe Cronulla Sharks need luck more than anything in their 2010 NRL campaign, but improvement won’t be hard given they finished so low in 2009.

In a positive sign, electronics company HiSense has jumped on board as the Sharks’ major sponsor in a smart move that immediately gets ‘one-up’ on rival LG (Lucky Goldstar) who pulled the pin on Cronulla last year after a long association.

With some growth in business support for the Sharks, now they need to gear up for some consistent performances on the NRL field.

While some recruitment was done in the form of  Dean Collis, John Morris, Adam Cuthbertson and Paul Aiton – the Sharks look to really lack some depth.

Collis when fit is certainly a damaging centre, some predicted he could be a future Origin star. But the Campbelltown product has failed to reach any heights in the past 18 months with a horror injury run. Even if the former Wests Tigers outside back remains fit, he will need time to gain his confidence and find peak form. Time that the Sharks just don’t have, as they need some thrust right now.

John Morris will be a workhorse as he always is, but the journeyman needs to curb his penalty problems. He gives away as many penalties as anyone else in the NRL which places plenty of pressure on his team. Solid, but not a superstar that can carry the Cronulla outfit to the finals.

It’s a similar story for Adam Cuthbertson. The man they call ‘The Hat’ has talent and is an honest, hardworking forward – but Cronulla need more. Cuthbertson is a rising star and will add vaule, but he can’t do it all on his own in the engine room for the Sharks.

Trent Barrett remains the lone ranger for this outfit. Baz might be coming to the end of his career, but at 32, he remains in good health and seems to be positive and passionate about his footy. He’s creativity is sorely needed by the Sharks, as they struggle more than any other side to score points. If Barrett can link well with Tupou consistently, then there might be some hope for the club that still desires their first ever Premiership.

Aiton looks to be their best pickup for the year, the former Penrith Panther has been a promising hooker for some time but never seemed to get the respect he deserved out West. Expect big things from Aiton if he can remain injury free for this season.

Cronulla have also lost a batch of talented players that could have helped, the biggest being Brett Kearney. He might have been injury prone, but Kearney can score points by the truck load. The Sharks will miss him and he should absolutely slay them in the UK Super League.

Also sent packing were the likes of Corey Hughes who probably chose the right time to walk away, promising half Blake Green who linked with the Bulldogs, Mitch Brown who did a revolving door with Collis, heading to the Tigers and finally Bronx Goodwin who left for the Storm. Goodwin in particular will be sorely missed, the rising star was always solid in a losing side for the Sharks and they should have done more to secure him.

The other reason the poor Cronulla outfit need plenty of luck, is there below average crowd support. In past seasons, the Shire folk have not turned up at Toyota Park to support their team and this has turned it into a welcome hunting ground for away teams.

Additional crowd numbers and boosted memberships are drastically needed.

To summarise, no Top 8 for the Sharkies this year. They’ll battle it out in the cellar with the likes of Newcastle, Canberra and the North Queensland Cowboys.

Graham injury opens door for Burns

Travis Burns Wade Graham Panthers 2010Rising Penrith star Wade Graham may have to concede his five-eighth position to Travis Burns in the early rounds, with the talented pivot set to have his shoulder checked out after more problems in early trials.

Still only 19, Graham arrived in the Panthers side nearly 2 years ago and along with Lachlan Coote has proved a handy player, bringing confidence well above his years.

With the arrival of livewire Travis Burns to the Panthers fold in 2010 – the race for the five-eighth spot was always going to be an interesting one.

There is no doubting the ability of Burns. The former Manly and Cowboys no.6 boasts great footwork and plenty of options in attack and despite his smaller size, has impressive defensive technique in the line.

It seems attitude has been the only thing holding Burns back. While most halves come with some cheekiness, Burns brings it in bucketloads and can be guilty of being a hothead at times. Overstepping the mark has cost him penalties in the past and previous teams have been forced to move him along.

But after some hot trial game form, Burns really stamped his mark for Penrith.

Now with Wade Graham facing possible time on the sidelines with shoulder issues, Burns gets first crack at pivot and going on current form, there is little chance the firebrand no.6 will give up his spot easily.

Penrith Panthers Profile:
Year entered premiership: 1967
Premierships: 2 – 1991, 2003
Finishes over the past three years: 2009 – 11th; 2008 – 12th; 2007 – 16th (last)
Coach: Matthew Elliott
Captain: Petero Civoniceva

Gains: David Simmons (Sharks), Kevin Kingston (Eels), Adrian Purtell (Raiders), Nigel Plum (Raiders), Travis Burns (Cowboys), Daine Laurie (Wests Tigers), Ray Nasso (Eels, NYC)

Losses: Paul Aiton (Sharks), Geoff Daniela (Wests Tigers), Junior Tia Kilifi (Bulldogs), Adam Woolnough (retired), Junior Moors (Wests Tigers)

Key Player: Luke Lewis is the most crucial of Penrith’s five internationals. Playing lock, he does a mountain of work in defence, and in attack he plays as a second five-eighth.

Rising Star: Sam McKendry is as big as they come at 188cm and 117kgs. The giant prop, who has excelled in the Toyota Cup competition, is ready to earn a permanent place in the Panthers’ NRL squad as Petero Civoniceva’s apprentice.

Best team: Lachlan Coote, Michael Gordon, Michael Jennings, Brad Tighe, Adrian Purtell, Wade Graham, Luke Walsh, Petero Civoniceva, Masada Iosefa, Tim Grant, Frank Pritchard, Trent Waterhouse, Luke Lewis. Interchange: Kevin Kingston, Matt Bell, Sam McKendry, Daine Laurie.

Betting: Centrebet $21, TAB SportsBet $21.

Trial Game Reviews

NRL Trial Game Reviews Results 2010With this weekends Round of Trial Games coming to an end, we look at how your team fared in their warm-up towards the NRL 2010 season:

Panthers 32 d Eels 12:

The young experimental Penrith side made light work of the near full strength Eels, with over 11,000 at CUA Stadium to watch the two Western rivals battle it out.

The big positive for Panthers fans, apart from an impressive win – is the arrival of Travis Burns. The livewire five-eighth has always been a talent and apart from a firebrand temper, the former Manly and Cowboys player has a tonne of skill.

Burns had a blinder and put his hand up to partner Luke Walsh in the halves, with a nervous Wade Graham looking over his shoulder. Coach Matt Elliott and Wade Graham have had their differences over the years and that may also work against the brash young rookie. Regardless, the competition for spots at Penrith will be hot.

The other thing to like about the Panthers on Saturday night was their controlled aggression. They had good commitment and stood up to a big name Eels pack.

With Lewis, Jennings, Civoniceva and Waterhouse to come back – the Penrith outfit finally seems to have some good depth. Their nemesis has always been consistentcy and they simply need to back it up week after week.

The loss for the Eels would be a little concerning for coach Daniel Anderson. Fielding a near full strength side, the Parramatta outfit were expected to make light work of the young Eels.

Injuries to Daniel Mortimer did hurt the organisation skills of the side, and serious injury to Ben Smith will also eat away at depth early in the year. However, it seems both Mortimer and Hayne will be available to play in this weekends trial against the Roosters should Anderson want them to play.

The loss for Parra shows again how heavily they rely on Nathan Hindmarsh. The veteran backrower does so much cleanup work in defence and the Eels are guilty at times of relying too heavily on him. Try machine Timana Tahu will also be a welcome addition when he makes his return shortly, the loss gives Tahu a good shot at grabbing a centre position from the likes of Inu and Burt, however it’s hard to see Joel Reddy being pushed aside.

Reddy has been a rock in defence and unstoppable in attack over the past year and a half and deserves his spot.

The final component for the Eels is in their forwards. They have a skillful, large pack – however, apart from Moi Moi they lack any dominating players. Anderson will need another enforcer in his back pocket should the requirement arise in 2010.

PENRITH PANTHERS 32 (Travis Burns 2, Shane Elford, Luke Walsh, Michael Gordon, Ryan Walker tries; Michael Gordon 3, Travis Burns goals) def PARRAMATTA EELS 12 (Luke Burt, Ben Smith tries; Luke Burt 2 goals) at CUA Stadium. Crowd: 11,113.

Dragons 16 d Bulldogs 14

Last years pace setters the Dragons have managed to win their second trial game, this time pipping the Bulldogs.

New Saint Peni Tagive, who was signed from the Wests Tigers, copped a suspected torn cruciate ligament which could sideline him for the year. The former Tiger has had the worst run with injury, having spent the best past of 2 years in cotton wool.

Both the Dragons and Dogs used strong lineups in the first half, with Jamaal Idris again showing how good he is. Big wraps continue to come for the youngster, his unique style proving so hard to tackle for opposing players. Idris bagging himself a double.

Ben Barba had some good touches for the Bulldogs, and he remains a strong backup to Brett Kimmorley should injury strike the veteran.

For the Saints, Nathan Fien remains a standout, consistently threatening from dummy half. He was prominent against the Eels in last weeks trial and will no doubt be at the forefront of Wayne Bennetts plans in 2010.

A hard game to read into, both full strengh sides made a tonne of errors in the first half and looked like they need a bit more football before they settle into NRL pace. In saying that, both sides did show decent defence which has been missing in other trial games seen so far.

Plenty of penalties and a stop start game.

DRAGONS 16 (Lett, Green, Vickery Tries; Goodwin 2 Goals)

BULLDOGS 14 (Idris 2, Nanai Tries; Turner 1 Goal)

Titans 28 d Souths 22

Big things are expected of these sides in 2010. Both should make the Top 8 and they have enviable rosters will good depth.

The Bunnies didn’t throw their top line forward pack into this clash, but the depth showed, as their backup pack more than held their own against the fancied Titans squad.

The big positive for the Gold Coast is the halves pairing of Prince and new face Greg Bird. With the flair, creativity and cool head of Prince – mashed in with the brute force and ability of Bird, look out. Prince has been in good touch and Bird is learning to integrate into this side.

Souths’ young side showed confidence and threw the ball around, with a few faces trying to impress coach John Lang.

The Titans should be more tradesman like in 2010, Cartwright’s coaching style and the stability of a few years to settle in should see this side really remain at the top.

The Titans have also made a smart move confirming Clinton Toopi on their roster. The former Kiwi international brings plenty to the table and would have been snared at a bargain price.

Gold Coast Titans 28 (M Rogers, C Toopi, R Brown, S Prince, W Zillman tries; S Prince 4 goals) defeated South Sydney Rabbitohs 22 (L Capewell 2, I Luke, J Vaivai tries; C Sandow 2, A Reynolds 1 goal). Crowd 5500.

Brisbane 32 d Canberra 24

The Broncos surprised in this game, with the experimental outing proving fairly successful – with coach Ivan Henjack trying Israel Foloau at fullback as well as promising rookie Corey Norman. Rookie Norman is only 18 but has a confident style, scoring a try and featuring highly.

Foloau concerned many in his Allstars outing when he was run down by Blake Ferguson, however the former Storm flyer was back to his best, scoring 3 tries in his sides win.

Ben Te’o also performed. Scoring twice and this may possibly be the year the talented backrower delivers. So much has been said about the former Tiger, he has the ability but just hasn’t seemed to settle in Brisbane thus far.

For the Green Machine, their best came from the usual suspects in Terry Campese and Joel Monaghan. The two representative players were well served by the Raiders forward pack who put in a good showing, if this can continue expect the Green Machine to have a good year.

Dane Tilse carved out good metres in this game, and Alan Tongue was heavily involved as he usually is. Logan, Tilse, Shillington and Harrison will be a lethal combination this year. Expect good metres, but decent agility and offloads from this lot.

NRL club memberships up for 2010

NRL Club MembershipsIt seems Rugby League supporters are finally getting behind their teams, as club membership growth is set to bring in an extra $25 million to NRL clubs in the coming season.

With many Sydney based clubs already struggling financially, the growth in memberships comes at an ideal time. The National Rugby League has also offered a $50,000 carrot to the team that can achieve the 10,000 ticketed membership figure first.

South Sydney lead the chase to the 10,000 member barrier, (Souths currently have 9160 members) and they are followed closely by St George Illawarra (9074) and the Bulldogs at (9051).

The big movers have been the Parramatta Eels who have gone close to doubling their member number this season, currently sitting at (6076). Also recording a gain the Cronulla Sharks moved to (2051) members which is a 21 percent rise on last year.

The Bunnies and Bulldogs in particular have had good marketing programs behind their memberships in the past few years. Always heavily supported, the Bulldogs have been focused on smashing the 10,000 barrier and over at Souths, since Crowe and Holmes a Court got on board they have made the 10,000 figure a priority as they like most clubs understand the importance and financial benefits strong membership rosters bring.

But in reality, these figures need to be much, much higher.

In a good move for 2010, several clubs have renamed the various membership types. While in the past there were ‘Season Ticket Holders’ and ‘Supporter Club Members’ – these are now being called ‘Ticketed Members’ and ‘Non Ticketed Members’.

A ticketed member is a member that pre-pays for seats at every home game and a non-ticketed member is a club supporter, without buying access to every game. Both memberships help the club and offer options to supporters who live long distances away and don’t need to attend every game.

When you compare the loyalty and amount of memberships the AFL clubs boast, it really makes the NRL base look decidedly puny.

Here are some club membership figures from the leading AFL teams:

Adelaide Crows: 51,000+ members

West Coast Eagles: 46,000+ members

Freemantle: 44,000+ members

Collingwood: 39,000+ members

When you compare these kind of figures, you realise that NRL fans need to seriously get on board and buy a membership to their footy club. Even if you live a long distance from your club, you don’t need to be a season ticket holder – simply purchase a membership to the Footy Club for a few bucks and help your team grow.

If you want to join, simply go NRL.COM/MEMBERSHIP and get on board with your club.

Michael Jennings busted driving unlicenced

Michael Jennings PanthersPenrith star Michael Jennings has been the first Panther to hit the headlines for the wrong reasons in 2010, with the speedster charged for driving unlicenced by Police in Western Sydney.

Confirmed by club and player, the Panthers have apparently already spoken to Jennings at length about the situation and have reprimanded him accordingly.

Apparently pulled over at Quakers Hill on January 29 – Jennings was alleged to have been driving despite having lost his licence for using up all his demerit points previously.

After being caught, Jennings made contact with the club immediately to report the situation. Penrith boss Mick Leary has held talks with Jennings and his manager Issac Moses but at this stage any suspension or possible sanctions by the club are unknown.

According to Leary;

“I called him in and disciplined him,” Leary confirmed. “His manager Isaac Moses was also there.

“It was the Monday after it happened. He was reprimanded. It was a stupid thing to do. I told Michael he simply cannot afford to do these things when he is in the limelight and representing Australia. He took everything on board.”

Jennings recently turned out for the NRL Allstars side on the Gold Coast.

NRL Injured Allstars Side

Most Injured NRL Players of alltimeWe first discussed the most injured NRL team of all time several years ago on NRLNEWS.COM (which included the likes of Brett Papworth, Brad Clyde and Andrew Johns) but given the recent spike in pre-season injuries to key players we felt it was time to revisit, but this time selecting the inaugral NRL Injured Allstars side from current injury-prone stars.

This will be a team featuring players that are always seemingly injured, some horror back luck here to say the least. We look forward to your suggestions and comments on who you think are the most injured players in the NRL.

1. Anthony Minichiello – The Roosters fullback has been a permanent fixture in the Hospital ward this past 3 years. An explosive fullback no doubt, but will he ever get out of cotton wool again?

2. Justin Hodges – The angry Queenslander with a bad attitude snares a spot on the wing, with too much competition in the centres in the injured allstars. Hodges has been a knee surgeons pin-up boy for years, dating back to his Roosters days. Still spends plenty of time in the dug-out with injuries.

3. Steve Matai – The New Zealand born centre has been an injury poster boy for the past few years. Not only has he regularly been out injured – but Matai makes an artform of clutching at an ankle, neck, leg or arm after most tackles in the NRL. Spends more time on the turf than he does on his feet in some games.

4. Brent Tate – The former Broncos flyer aka ‘Buzz Lightyear’ for his weird looking neck brace has been on the cover of World Worst Sporting Injuries several times now. Has had a horror run in the past 4-5 years and will hopefully get on the field again once more in 2010.

5. Eric Grothe – Only just managed to scrape into the Injured Allstars side. Grothe has had better luck in the past 18 months, but prior to this he made a career out of bandages. Back backs, busted knees and sore hips. He lived out of the back of an ambulance. But was this merely a cover to skip some training?

6. Trent Barrett – The talented NSW and Australian half has spent plenty of time in the injury ward. Baz nearly had to make cotton wool part of his preparation back in his St George Illawarra days, while he has improved – even in his new Sharks career he has spent time on the stretcher for many weeks in a row.

7. Benji Marshall – The captain of the Injured Allstars, the Wests Tigers considered building a mini-Hospital at Lidcombe Oval to cater to Marshall. Shoulders like rubber bands at times, the Kiwi playmaker lives and breathes operations. Spent half a career under observation.

8. Jason Ryles – Vice Captain of the Injured Allstars, the former Saint now Rooster should be given a trophy for his injury achievements. The veteran has done it all in injury terms and has achieved the unthinkable, he has copped another injury prior to the season even starting with the Roosters in 2010. A candidate for Injured Allstars hall of fame.

9.  Robbie Farah – A relative rookie to the Injured Allstars, Farah has quickly climbed the ranks as a an injury poster boy. The gifted Tigers rake is notching up miles in the emergency ward quicker than any other upcoming player. Expect to see him selected in the team for the next few years.

10. Ben Ross -  A veteran that needs no introduction, Ross lives for Hospital food. This guy has gone to amazing lengths to ensure his selection in the Injured Allstars and was up until recently the highest paid player under the Injured Allstars salary cap. Brings amazing injury skills to the team.

11. Steve Simpson – Another veteran that knows how to bandage a busted knee or two. The Knights forward regularly buckles over with problems and has battled the injury blues for years. Amazing that he has managed to keep his lengthy career going with so much time in leg warmers on the sideline.

12. Willie Mason – A high profile addition, had the option of being selected for either foot in mouth disease or for impressive stints on the sidelines over the years for knee problems. No stranger to the ER Wards of Belmore and Bondi, a handy addition to the Injured Allstars NRL side.

13. Dean Young – Could have easily been selected at hooker, but Young gets pipped by the Rookie Injured Allstar Farah. Young has been a constant in the Allstar Injured selections for years. This guy will deadset be a hall of famer for the Injured Allstars in the years ahead. Was mentored by Ryles at the Dragons, giving Young a strong edge with injuries. This guy has done it all in such few years.

14. Kurt Gidley – Storming selection on the bench. Gids has been working hard to get injured in these past few years and ensured his selection with a recent mystery knee problem. Expect more from this talented Newcastle product.

15. Brett Kearney – The Sharks flyer is rarely seen on the field these days. He apparently has rented a Hospital room which ensures automatic selection in the Injured Allstars side.

16. Keith Galloway – The tearaway Tiger has done everything to get into the Injured Allstars side and secures a bench spot as he continues to find his way to the sidelines.

17. Matt Bowen – Unlucky to be forced out by Minichiello in the starting side. Bowen has been in outstanding injury form in recent seasons, a bench position is just reward for his efforts.

Daniel Abraham on comback trail

Daniel Abraham Newcastle Knights NRLIt’s a case of back to the future for the former Knights star, with 28 year old Daniel Abraham working overtime to get back into the frame for the Knights in 2010.

The one time representative player was a regular in the Newcastle sides of 2 and 3 years ago, a talented ball playing forward or possible five-eighth – Abraham had plenty of tricks in his kit bag.

Still on the good side of 30, Abraham was struck down with horror injuries in the past few years – which killed off a stint with the North Queensland Cowboys nearly 2 years ago.

Having reached country representative honours in the years prior, much was expected of Abraham until his luck turned sour.

But with new coach Rick Stone offering the former first grader every chance, Abraham has been training with up to 3 squads in an effort to get himself back in the frame and give the NRL one last shot.

While contracted to Kurri Kurri for 2010, Abraham has been training with the Knights and their NSW Cup feeder team Central Coast Centurions to give himself a shot of getting back into the NRL side.

“I’m just plugging along, training when I can,” Abraham said.

“At the moment I’m training with three different sides.

“I train with Kurri late in the day once or twice a week, I also work with the Central Coast squad at times, and I jump in with the full-time Knights boys when they’ve got a session on that doesn’t collide with my work hours.

“I’m all over the shop at the moment, training with anyone I can get in on, but if all this falls through, my main focus is with Kurri. That’s where I made my commitment first.”

With new coach Rick Stone offering Abraham every chance to train and work closely with the first grade squad, it’s an ideal launch pad for the experienced player.

If the injury merry-go-round starts to swing the other way and strike at other Knights players, then Daniel Abraham might just get a shot at the big-time once more in 2010.

Confident Soward the Key

Jamie Soward Dragons Chances NRL 2010While St George Illawarra supporters are still ruing the year that got away, the 2009 Minor Premiers will continue to reap the benefits from an ever-improving Jamie Soward this year.

After now having spent 2 full seasons with the Dragons, the 25 year old Soward has obviously blossomed under the guidance of Wayne Bennett. Given a licence to thrill under Bennett, Soward has really thrived – after getting a tonne of confidence from the backing of Bennett.

He might have had his doubters at the Roosters, but Jamie Soward is really making the Bondi brigade rue the day they let him go.

Phil Gould always touted the young half as a future Origin player, and Gus regularly used to use Soward as a training tool in NSW Origin Camps.

In only 2 and a bit seasons at the Dragons, Soward has already got his hands on club records. The creative no.7 nabbing the most points in a season record and also holding the highest game point scoring achievement after sinking 22 points in a single outing.

Sowards creativity, direction and accurate kicking are widely recognised – but what surprised many last week is the raw speed he showed to outpace Panthers gun Michael Jennings in a footrace to the try line.

Soward has always had fair pace, but to outsprint Jennings over 50 metres was an impressive feat and one that should have Dragons fans salivating over their prospects in 2010.

Ever increasing representative honours for Soward are helping him no end in the confidence department and given the fact that the Dragons have several playmakers is handy to take the pressure off the current half-back week in, week out.

The Saints may have lost big Wendell Sailor, along with the likes of Chase Stanley and Mickey Paea but the increasingly confident Soward is the key to their success in 2010. He is more and more becoming the player to turn half chances into points and is willing to take the gamble when the game is on the line.