Cooper backs Soward for NRL blockbuster - Sports News - Fanatics - the world's biggest events

Cooper backs Soward for NRL blockbuster

By Steve Jancetic 16/08/2011 05:40:23 PM Comments (0)

St George Illawarra NRL centre Matt Cooper didn't notice Jamie Soward struggling last weekend but has backed the under-fire playmaker to answer his critics on Friday night.

Soward came under heavy criticism after producing a lacklustre performance in Sunday's loss to the Sydney Roosters.

Clearly hampered by a back injury he carried into the contest, Soward couldn't even avoid the ire of coach Wayne Bennett - who did little to hide his disappointment that Soward had declared himself fit.

He was hooked for the final ten minutes of the 20-12 loss, casting doubts on his availability for Friday night's match-up with ladder leaders Melbourne.

But Soward was a bundle of energy at training on Tuesday, the back injury pushed to one side as he ran and kicked with freedom.

"Jimmy was good out there today," Cooper said after training.

"I'm not sure how he's feeling, I haven't asked him but, by all standards, he looked great out there today so I'm tipping he's 100 per cent."

Asked if he noticed Soward struggling to make an impact against the Roosters, Cooper said: "Not really, no.

"It's hard for me to see what's going on at the right side.

"I did notice he was off there at the end of the game but I don't know why he went off.

"He's a big boy, he can handle the criticism, he's a great player and a big part of our side."

Soward didn't do any goalkicking after Tuesday's session, but will be required to resume those duties against the Storm, with alternative kicker Kyle Stanley likely to be squeezed out of the side with Mark Gasnier's return from a hip flexor injury.

Stanley was named on a five-man interchange bench, but is expected to be the fall guy should Gasnier prove hit fitness.

Either way, the Dragons need Soward at his best.

"I expect, as does everyone, a big game from Sowie every week. I'm sure he'll be looking to fire," winger Jason Nightingale said.

"Obviously, his confidence will need to get back on track.

"His kicking game's one of the best in the comp and that's something that we miss when he's not around.

"Just his speed and the way he can read a game is probably what we miss the most, but I don't think he's been off.

"Obviously, he was quiet on the weekend but, before that, he was playing as good as I've seen him play."

While Soward was moving freely at training, Gasnier didn't run with the team as officials continue to monitor his tender hip.

"We've got another session on Thursday and, hopefully, he'll be alright to train and do a bit of ball work," Cooper said.

"I'm expecting him to play ... Gaz is a professional. He won't play if he's not fit.

"He's a class player. We'd love to have him out there and I expect him to be there."

Should Gasnier be declared fit, the Dragons will be at full strength for just the second time since the opening rounds of the season, the other occasion being against Wests Tigers just over a week ago.

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