He had back surgery over the summer but Jamie Soward has no problems carrying Penrith’s NRL premiership hopes in 2016.
After a sub-par 2015 campaign that resulted in a heart-to-heart with club boss Phil Gould late last year, the onus is on the veteran five-eighth to drive the Panthers back into the finals contention this season.
And the early signs are encouraging for Penrith fans, with a healthy Soward participating in three straight trial matches to retain his spot as the starting No.6.
Ahead of Saturday’s season-opener against Canberra, the 31-year-old said he took plenty of confidence from his busiest pre-season in years.
“I had a little setback with the surgery but I’ve come out of that alright and played nearly three full games,” Soward told AAP.
The arrival of new coach Anthony Griffin meant veteran halves Soward and Peter Wallace were made to work to keep their spots in the starting 17 and, at various stages of the summer, it looked like they wouldn’t.
But having staved off challenges from new captain Matt Moylan and rising talent Te Maire Martin, the pivotal position is now Soward’s to lose.
He anointed Martin as the club’s future playmaker, but also said Moylan’s anticipated move from fullback to six was shelved, for now.
“It’s something that the coach dabbled with early on but realised it’d be best for Moyza to enjoy fullback as long as he can rather than rushing him,” Soward said.
“Now he gets a year to be captain and settle in at fullback.
“I was quite confident that myself and Wall were going to start seven and six. It was just a matter of getting our bodies right.”
Griffin said both Soward and Wallace had earned their jumpers.
“Those two guys have done a good job, particularly Jamie, who’s played in New Guinea, then he played in the All Stars, and played in our last trial. So he’s had a really good preparation,” he said.
“And Pete’s had 60 minutes against Parramatta, so they’re both ready to go.”
Wallace has been confirmed as captain in place of Moylan.