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Bennett loss would be a blow: Soward

By Daniel Pace 07/02/2011 07:08:21 PM Comments (0)

Star St George Illawarra five-eighth Jamie Soward admitted it would be a "massive blow" if Wayne Bennett departed at season's end but insisted speculation over the coach's future would not destabilise the Dragons' premiership defence.

Speaking after the Indigenous All Stars trained on the Gold Coast on Monday in the lead-up to Saturday's clash with the NRL All Stars at Skilled Park, Soward said the constant rumours over Bennett would not distract the Dragons from their 2011 mission.

No side has won back-to-back premierships in a united competition since Bennett's Brisbane Broncos claimed the 1992 and 1993 titles, ironically beating St George on both occasions.

Weekend reports suggested Bennett had already made up his mind to leave the premiers, with South Sydney a hot favourite to secure his services in 2012.

"Wayne's obviously off contract this year and I'm sure he'll let the playing group know at the appropriate time what's going on with his future," Soward told reporters on Monday.

"In saying that, it's not going to affect our performance this year, whether he stays or goes.

"We'd love him to stay but if he decides to go, then it's his decision and we'll respect that."

Asked about the effect Bennett's departure would have on the joint venture club, Soward didn't mince his words: "It'd be a massive blow.

"Down there he's regarded as a god to the Dragons fans, much like he was in Brisbane."

Bennett has been a special mentor for Soward, whose confidence as a playmaker has grown over the past two years under the guidance of the former Broncos mentor.

If not for five-eighth Todd Carney enjoying such a sparkling 2010 season with losing grand finalist Sydney Roosters, Soward would be in contention to make his NSW State of Origin debut this year.

"Wayne's personally been more of a friend than a coach," Soward said.

"It was something I needed and I responded pretty well to how he approached our relationship, on and off the field.

"He told me not to think about it too much and just go out there and play footy. He's probably changed my career and changed my game."

Soward scored the match-winning try for the Indigenous All Stars last year and celebrated by showing off his special headgear marked with the date of the death of his father Peter from a heart attack - a day after he made his NRL debut for the Roosters in 2005.

This year he has an extra spring in his step after helping the Dragons break their premiership drought in October.

"(The off-season) was a little bit easier to relax and enjoy myself knowing that I didn't have any regrets," the 26-year-old said.

"I probably enjoyed myself too much and came back a little bit heavy."

North Queensland fullback Matt Bowen (flu) was the only member of the 20-man Indigenous squad to miss Monday's training session at Robina but he is expected to play this weekend.

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