Penrith star Peter Wallace has launched a passionate defence of halves partner Jamie Soward as the under-siege pair commit themselves to helping rebuild the Panthers as an NRL premiership force under new coach Anthony Griffin.
Penrith began pre-season training last week, with Griffin yet to guarantee the first grade futures of Wallace and Soward.
Wallace fell out with Griffin in their time together at Brisbane, while Soward has been linked to a move away from the foot of the mountains.
Wallace has said the breakdown of his relationship with Griffin at Red Hill is no longer an issue at Penrith and Soward says he will play out the remaining two years of his contract with the Panthers.
Soward has again become a lightning rod for the failings of the club he is with. After leading the Panthers to a preliminary final appearance in 2014, some have deemed the 2010 premiership winner surplus to requirements at Penrith ahead of 2016.
A similar situation occurred at St George Illawarra under ex-coach Steve Price and Wallace says that is unfair.
“He cops it more than most, but he deals with it well, he has become used to it over the years,” Wallace told AAP of Soward.
“But I do feel for him sometimes he does cop a fair bit of flack, a lot of it is unnecessary a lot of it is probably not needed, I’m not sure why.
“I think people form an opinion of him and they don’t know him he is a great bloke I get on with him really well, he is one of my good mates.
“He is a good player and he still has plenty to offer this club.”
Headed by key recruit Trent Merrin, emerging stars such as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and the rise of Matt Moylan, Wallace says there is every reason for Penrith fans to look forward to next season.
“Everyone sees a lot of hope next year, we have showed what we can do if we keep everyone on the field,” Wallace said.
“It was disappointing last year, not just because of the injuries but there were a few games there when we didn’t play the way we wanted to play and the way we set standards to play.
“I’m sure if we can keep everyone on the field we can improve on what we did last season.”
Soward (back) and Wallace (knee) both struggled with injuries throughout last season but have returned to training fully fit. Merrin begins with the Panthers on Tuesday.