The year Wimbledon stayed green

Image: Julian Finney/Getty images
As a teenager I looked forward to two events each year more than anything else. One was Christmas and the other was Wimbledon.

I looked forward to Wimbledon because I was about as nerdish as a tennis-playing teen could get, and grass court tennis was my text book.

I looked forward to Christmas because that nerdiness would be satisfied through the gift of a Stefan Edberg tracksuit.

Yes, the presents (if you were lucky) food and sneaking of underage booze was all well and good, but for a period between 1988 and 1993 the new Edberg outfit defined Christmas for me.

My parents must have had an Edberg only account at the local sports store, because that is all I wanted as a gift, which is lucky because at the ludicrously inflated sports gear price it was all I was going to get.

He was my hero.

Edberg’s symphonically smooth grass court play had such a formative effect on me that without it I would certainly not be the tennis-obsessed man I am today.

I would often wear my Edberg inspired warm-up suit as I stayed up watching him try (sometimes in vain) to ward off that other handy serve-volleyer in Boris Becker.

Wimbledon has always been that most quaint and polite of sporting contests, where every man in the crowd seemed decked out in Panama hats trying vainly to keep the rare English sun off their face, while the ladies used their programs to fan themselves while all heads shifted back and forth following the fluffy, bright yellow ball.

And before players decided that performing their best Screaming Jay Hawkins impersonation seemed appropriate each time they hit a ball, it was the most quiet of events.

A place where the squeak and scrape of tennis shoes was replaced with the almost beautifully deadened sound of sneakers on grass, grass that from the moment it appeared on your television screen behind ‘Newk’s’ Cheshire Cat-like smile almost dazzled you with its greenness.

But over the course of the tournament Edberg and his fellow net-rushing raiders would forge white worn paths to the Wimbledon nets, all in the hope of picking off a kick serve-effected, looping return with a backhand volley into the opposite corner.

This white path was the main indicator to how deep into the tournament the match was occurring, and the deeper you got the more grass court tennis you saw.

It was a style so different to that which was played just a week or so earlier on the Paris clay, and it spoke volumes to the diversity of style in the sport.

Fast-forward to 2013 and not even the English Channel can separate the players from their French Open style.

Recent Wimbledons have stood out less for a player’s stellar net and traditional grass court play, and more for a player’s ability in clay court-style lateral baseline scrambles.

Wimbledon tournaments that included players like Edberg, Becker, Navratilova, Graf, Rafter, Sampras now seem like odes to a bygone era, when grass court tennis was an art form and players used the whole of a court, rather than merely the baseline in between the doubles tracks, to beat an opponent.

This years Wimbledon seems to have exposed the lack of grass court experience professionals are afforded, and it’s the absence of the hitherto white tracks leading to the net on centre court that gives this away.

Those that get to the hallowed Wimbledon net greet it like a sinister stranger, and maybe it is this fear of the unknown that causes panic and a sudden shift on unworn slippery grass.

The net snares another unprepared victim.

Like an unused bushwalking track, those white paths have not reappeared and the evidence of how to get from the baseline to the net has vanished.

Wimbledon now starts and ends green.

Many are blaming this greenness on the spate of injuries and big name loses that plagued the early rounds, like an unforgiving environment swallowing up ill-prepared explorers.

Wimbledon is not only a major, but it is also one of only eight tournaments that is still played on this most traditional of surfaces, and it’s the apparent slow death of supporting grass court events that will see Wimbledon even more isolated on its sea of green, leaving even less traditional grass court tennis.

The game is certainly not the same and the job of Wimbledon’s centre court curator just keeps getting easier.

'Now's The Time' for Jackson Bird

Here's hoping Bird can blow a few English wickets away
With a name like Jackson Bird, there are so many word plays and analogies you could riff on. There’s ‘a Bird in the hand is worth two English wickets’ or ‘Jackson’s 5-for’, to name just a couple.

But my favourite, and perhaps most appropriate, references the 1940’s Jazz great, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker.

The baggy greens have already had one supporting fast bowler linked by name to a famous jazzman. So I wonder, could Jackson Bird put a beat on England and become our next Dizzy Gillespie?

I have no idea if Jackson Bird enjoys jazz, or whether or not he has heard of the likes of Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk or indeed Charlie Parker.

If his musical interests are cut from the traditional moulds of the Australian cricket team, he will no doubt espouse the virtues of pub rock, be able to monkishly recite the lyrics to Khe Sanh and believe the Choirboys never got the recognition they fully deserved.

But metaphorically, and perhaps literally, Bird has more in common with the smooth and subtle jazz greats than howling Aussie rockers.

On a superficial level, Parker’s nickname, ‘Yardbird’, or more commonly ‘Bird’, is an obvious starting point.

And then there’s the fact that Charlie Parker played with, and for a time was mentored by, Dizzy Gillespie, a name not unfamiliar within baggy green circles.

But more importantly, Charlie Parker was a formidable and precocious talent. From the first time people saw ‘Bird’ on stage, his potential to become one of the greats was barely questioned.

Jackson Bird has himself proven a formidable and precocious talent. In just two first class seasons, Bird has taken 101 wickets at 19. Perhaps even more impressive is that in 37 innings, he has taken four or more wickets on 13 occasions.

And when Bird graduated from the dark jazz club underground of domestic cricket into the shining spotlight of nationally televised performance, he played with the precision and accuracy that bellied the nerves he must have felt.

Charlie Parker hit every note pitch perfect and on time, a rhythmic ability that saw subtle shifts in his progressions seem like monumental swings.

Jackson Bird hits the pitch at seemingly perfect points, a rhythmic ability that sees subtle shifts in his actions seem like monumental swing.

Parker was smooth and metronomic, and mesmerised those that stood before him.

Bird is smooth and metronomic, and can mesmerise batsmen that face him.

He has only played two Tests but his record of 11 wickets at 16 and the way in which he gained it, was mighty impressive. He bowled tight and hit a consistently worrying length. (Though admittedly, these results came at the expense of a somewhat overpowered Sri Lankan team.)

The 2013 Ashes tour sees Bird get the opportunity to cement his place in an Australian team crying out for stability and consistency, something he can surely offer.

One of my favourite ‘Bird’ tunes is titled ‘Now’s The Time’, and for his Australian cricketing namesake, this song rings very true.

His time is now and Bird’s bid for a Test berth begins with the coming tour match against Worcester.

If Bird delivers a typically accurate and miserly performance in his opening tour match, it will be very difficult for selectors to ignore him and his metronomic action, one that is potentially so well suited to Anglo conditions.

In this regard, he has inevitably (maybe unfortunately) been hailed as the second coming of another Australian cricket bird, the one more specifically known as ‘pigeon’; Glenn McGrath.

McGrath, along with Shane Warne, is increasingly becoming a messianic figure in Australian cricket. Players we all hope will be somehow reincarnated and return to lead our bat-wielding band into the next era of success.

But in the words of a true jazzman, Bird is his own man, man. He won’t have the same greatest of all time support that McGrath so often enjoyed at the opposite end. He will likely be better suited to a supporting role, much like Dizzy before him.

And like the great saxophonist, Australia will hope Jackson locks into a groove that seldom falls out of time, tapping a beat that resembles the fluttering hearts of English batsmen as Bird helps blow their wickets away.

LeBron James defends a championship, becomes a legend

Arm wrestle anyone? He'll win that too
Even before the Heat’s game 7 victory over the Spurs, LeBron James had done all there is to do on a basketball court. He is a four-time league MVP, NBA champion and finals MVP, nine-time all-star and two-time Olympic gold medalist. King James has been a champion for a long time.

But the leadership and heroics James displayed by leading his Heat team to a stirring title defence means LeBron has now become something even greater.

LeBron James is now a legend.

A lot of neutrals who were watching the final 7 games of this NBA season would have hoped that the underdogs San Antonio Spurs would upset the man that was responsible for the ‘decision’ (something even the departing NBA commissioner David Stern found deplorable) and who publicly proclaimed that he would see Miami win eight titles (something that is now admittedly well in play!).

Even though his none-too-insignificant abilities are worthy of respect, it is still very difficult to root for the man.

However, one can do nothing but applaud the greatest basketball player on the planet for absorbing the most executive, analytical, expert and armchair criticisms that have ever been thrown at an individual, and using them as motivation to win back-to-back NBA titles.

LeBron and coach Eric Spoelstra will, to their credit, divert the inevitable attention that will fall on the efforts of James back to the all- round team performance, which was admittedly mighty.

But make no bones about it, this is Lebron’s team; and without his super hero efforts in game 6 and 7, the Larry O’Brien trophy would now be covered with the fingerprints of Duncan, Popovich and Parker.

This is not to belittle the other member of Miami’s roster. But the fact is that even LeBron’s teammates know the above statement to be true, as was evidenced in the team’s joyous reaction to their leader’s MVP award.

To the man, they are no doubt grateful for participating on the King’s court.

As rightfully as LeBron was roundly and deservedly cut down for the strange 2011 finals effort and subsequent defeat, he just as deservedly needs all the plaudits one can meter out where this Heat victory is concerned.

The NBA uses the word ‘Big’ as the tag in its advertising campaign accompanied by footage of NBA stars making ‘big’ plays.

For next season, James’s stat lines from the final two elimination games of this absorbing finals series need only accompany ‘Big’. We will all know what the NBA is getting at.

James’ game 6 and 7 performances were, considering the stakes, the biggest and most effective of his career.

Last year, Miami faced a young OKC Thunder team that wilted on the big stage and under the weight of a combined big three effort. This year, Miami faced a ‘big boy’ series, as Spurs coach Gregg Popovich coined it.

This was no place for a champion with anxiety and confidence issues, something that was alluded to in 2011 and was seemingly apparent during LeBron’s game 3 and 5 efforts this year.

But on consecutive nights, with their season and ‘legacy’ on the line, the ‘big three’ was the group wilting as it was often reduced to a ‘big two’, and James was called upon to carry the load.

For example, game 6 saw Chris Bosh come up with some game-saving plays while Wade was quiet. In game 7, the big man laid a goose egg on offence and was barely visible in defence, while Wade came on with 23 points and vital rebounds.

And while these schizophrenic performances were going on around him, LeBron held his nerve to play two of the most ‘clutch’ games seen in finals history.

Cometh the hour, cometh the King.

But despite the heroics, one cannot ignore how easily it all could have been catastrophically different for James and the Heat.

Indeed, the closeness with which the Spurs came to recording a famous finals victory could now be used in any dictionary, referenced under ‘near miss’.

There has been much analysis of every Spurs play that occurred in that extraordinary final 22 seconds of regulation game 6.

Ginobilli and Leonard’s free throw misses are stand-outs, as was the failure of the Spurs to secure rebounds that led to LeBron’s late second chance three-pointer and that shot by Ray Allen.

But as the excellent Zach Lowe points out in this amazing Grantland piece, there are many incidents that occur throughout a basketball game that all have equal bearing on an outcome.

Lowe reminds us that no one event can ever be blamed for defeat.

But Tony Parker will no doubt go over that final second drive in game 6, Ginobili will no doubt stew over that no call, and from game 7, Tim Duncan will be haunted by his point blank miss to tie the game with 30 seconds to go.

Had any of these moments gone the way of the Spurs, we could now be talking about James and the Heat’s legacy being under threat, along with the potential break up of the ‘big three’.

The fact that we are not has much to do with the efforts of a champion and, in turn, the creation of a legend.

Hey LeBron, don't hide, be Hyde!

LeBron James was true to his word and game 4 saw the best player on earth reaffirm that infinitely grand title by following through on the brilliantly understated promise of being ‘much better ‘.

In the Heat’s road win over the Spurs, James’s stat line (33pts, 11 boards, 4 dimes, 2 steals and 2 blocks) stood out like a beacon of truth, shaming the all too real lie that he told in game 3.

But if the tone of Miami’s 2013 playoff run continues in the same key, it’s the turn of mere adequate LeBron to reappear from the devastatingly long shadow that was cast by unstoppable LeBron of game 4.

There has been much talk of James’ Jekyll and Hyde type performances over the past few games.
Inconsistency and a willingness to settle for 18 foot jumpers before game 4 had reminded everyone of that unfortunate and baffling finals performance of 2011.

LeBron’s ‘worst’ performance in these finals thus far came in the game 3 blow out loss where James had 15-11-5-2, passable enough numbers for any ordinary player.

But of course LeBron aint no ordinary player, and these numbers were jumped on as signs of a failing superstar unable to carry his teammates to victory.

The points came on 7-21 from the field and did not include a single free throw, more polite Dr Jekyll than angry Mr Hyde and very un-James like.

These criticisms maybe warranted but it also fails to pay due respect to the stifling defence played by the Spurs, personified by Danny Green and his impersonations of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings.

Thou shalt not pass indeed!

Unfortunately for San Antonio they were so effective in shutting down the Heat’s big 3 in game 3 that it seemed the catalyst Miami needed to unleash a devastating game 4 vengeance.

Much like the Ghostbusters warned, if you shut it down you may not like what emerges.

James was down right vicious.

The Heat don’t need good LeBron in the style of a morally sound, merely effective Dr Jekyll from Louis Stevenson’s 19th century tale of split personality.

The Heat needs a stat stuffing, all court monster angry at what has gone on before and desperate to make someone pay.

Mr Hyde in a Heat jersey.

LeBron did that in Game 4 and has now vowed to Hyde up again in game 5 by stating ‘enough is enough’ – it’s time for King James’ merry men to once again win back to back games in this see sawing Miami Heat post season.

To do this he will need Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade to again answer the call.

In game 4 Bosh was the player the Heat constantly need him to be, spacing a well drilled Spurs defence and bringing his more than capable yet often mysteriously missing defensive skills to the fore.

Wade also stepped out of his bizarre funk.

We don’t know what the issue was with Wade’s form over the first three games of this finals series, but its safe to say that if he reproduces his Game 4 heroics of 32 pts 6 steals 6 boards and 4 assists, the Heat will be harder to beat than a concrete piñata.

But there in lies the challenge for coach Spoelstra and his side.

The Heat have not won back to back games since their second round series against a depleted Chicago Bulls. And for a team that recorded a franchise record 27 straight regular season wins the up and down nature of this recent stint must be nauseating.

A lot is being made of the must win situation that the Spurs find themselves in going into today’s game 5. And its true, heading back to Miami having to win both road games to secure the title seems unlikely even for such a storied fight filled franchise.

But based on the pattern of the Heat’s recent post-season play the same ‘must win’ pressure could also be weighing heavily on Miami.

This makes LeBron’s split basketballing personalities and the performances of his fellow big three members even more vital, and today’s game all the more intriguing.

Hello Spurs; Is It Danny Green You're looking For?

Has anyone seen these two in the same room?
During Game two of this NBA finals series a friend made the throw away remark about San Antonio Spurs sharp shooter Danny Green’s resemblance to the 80s crooner Lionel Richie.

Sure, I conceded, both men have ill conceived facial hair and a seemingly unflappable disposition. But for me that’s where the physical similarities end (though I have no way of knowing the breadth of Green’s singing talent).

However if you are talking metaphorical similarities, well I got a list of them longer than Lionel Richie’s hair care bill.

For starters Richie had plenty of hits, Dancing on the Ceiling, Hello and Three Times a Lady to name but a few.

But during the game three blow out win over the Heat Richie’s dubious basketballing doppelganger Danny Green rewrote a version of an even bigger hit in All Night Long.

The only music he used was the sound from snapping nets as Green rained down three after three after three all night long against a bewildered Miami audience.

While many of Richie’s pop hits are, in this writers humble opinion, at best insipid and at worst nauseatingly saccharine, Green’s stop and pop three point daggers have for Spurs fans been equivalent to anthemic renditions of inspiring war cries.

Danny Green has arrived in this series, shooting a blistering 70% from 3-point range on the way to averaging 18 points during this finals series, up from 10.5 during the regular season.

Belying the Spurs big three, Green may well prove the vital spark the Spurs need to catch fire in their search for a fifth NBA title.

For the past few games Green, along with Gary Neal, has picked up the scoring slack that a literally hamstrung Tony Parker and a quiet Tim Duncan let sag for the second game in a row.

Neal and Green scored 51 of the Spurs 113 points total on a combined 13-19.

It was Neal and Green, not Parker and Duncan, who were the Spurs in the Heats side early on, catching and shooting with a deadly accuracy not seen since Pat Garrett patrolled the Texan prairies.

While Neal caught fire early Green waited until the second half to meter out his 3-point blitzkrieg, eventually finishing with a game high 27 points on 7-9 from beyond the arc.

But for all the razzle-dazzle while shooting the lights out, arguably Green’s greatest contributions have come on the defensive end.

His ability to stay with a gliding Wade or bullocking LeBron has much to do with the Heats naval gazing on their stuttering running game and public discussions on how best to combat a stifling and frugal defence.

While no one should doubt the likelihood of a LeBron led resurgence in game four his and the Heat’s performance thus far has alarmingly resembled the most ineffectual aspects of the series loss to the Mavericks in 2011.

Any time James is found settling for 18 foot wing jumpers is concerning for a team that relies on its star dominator doing exactly that from 10 feet and closer.

James is at his most devastating when attacking the paint, but apart for a desperately brief period during the third quarter of game three this mode of attack was non existent.

Ominously, LeBron has vowed to be better in game four.

The scary part for San Antonio is they know he can’t be much worse, a point that seems unfair to make about a player whose game included 15 points, 11 rebounds five assists and two steals, respectable statistics for any mere NBA mortal.

But Superman has proved on many occasions to be more than that, and right now the Heat need a super hero to once again inspire a performance that will come off the back of a curiously lacklustre post season effort.

Meanwhile, the Greg Popovich legend continues to grow.

Gary Neal and Danny Green, along with Kawhi Leonard, have become the latest personifications of the clichéd Spurs ‘system’ that is so ardently spruiked by coach ‘Pop’.

Popovich has carved out a sizeable reputation by taking unwanted, lowly or undrafted role players and turning them into essential, bona fide contributors.

It is a system that often sees San Antonio anointed the standard bearer to NBA small market success. Players are required to ‘buy’ into a culture of all for one and one for all, and are recruited on their willingness to do so.

Fittingly the leaders of this misfit band of bit part players have been the Spurs own version of the three musketeers.

For 12 years Messrs’ Ginobili, Parker and Duncan have guided less illustrious teammates through the rigours of an NBA season, and have three championships as reward.

They are now two games away from a fourth.

If Greg Popovich ever thought to give up coaching basketball he may well think of taking up marriage counselling, such is his success in marrying players like Danny Green and his fellow unheralded heroes to the Spurs system.

San Antonio is once again reaping the rewards of a relationship born on trust and perseverance., and come this time next week they may once again be Dancing in the Street.

Durant A Superhero, But Not Super Human

'Holy snapped meniscus Batman!'
Much has been written about Kevin Durant’s recent superhero efforts in keeping his Oklahoma City Thunder team within striking distance of the Memphis Grizzlies in their western conference semi final series.

But Kevin Durant is not superman; he is far more human than that.

No, if we are going to hyperbolise his wonderful, yet so far futile, efforts with super hero epithets I’m much more comfortable with a Batman comparison where Durant is concerned.

In the world of super heroes Batman is unique.

He has no superpowers, no strange skills developed after being bitten by a particular insect or hit by a nuclear ray gun, nor any supernatural ability to control the elements.

Batman has his muscle, his intellect and the skills he has learnt. Batman is fallible to emotion and can be, with great difficulty, contained. Batman is human and adjusts to situations accordingly.

And in Robin, Batman also has willing and capable sidekick who always has the dark knight’s back. 
He has the ability to keep bad guys guessing with quick decisions that defer the attention away from his more illustrious partner.

Kevin Durant is OKC’s Batman, and Russell Westbrook is their Robin.

Despite the well-publicised and controversial trade of fan favourite James Harden, the dynamic duo of Durant and Westbrook led the Thunder to a 60-win season, a record bettered only by the champion Miami Heat.

The two had seemingly worked their on-court relationship into a cohesive marriage that helped settle a Thunder family still trying to come to terms with the loss of a favourite son in Harden.

Kevin Martin was adopted as Harden’s replacement, and while his skill set was deemed somewhat inferior to the bearded swingman, his offensive production was seen as an adequate enough fall back for the exploits of OKC’s superhero pairing.

The 2013 season was all going to plan until ‘holy torn meniscus, batman’, Westbrook got injured (Westbrook had not missed a competitive game of basketball in high school, college or five years in the NBA; truly a superhuman effort!).

Aside from the significant 23 points, 7 assists and 5 rebounds he was giving in production, Westbrook would be sorely missed as being the fall back guy, the effective sidekick to Kevin Durant’s scoring superhero.

He could divert the attention of any teams defence, freeing up Durant to either play facilitator or receiver, or vice versa.

But Batman is now on his own and in the absence of his lightning quick sidekick, Durant has stepped up production and borne a much heavier load.

Kevin Durant wanted to do more for his Thunder teammates. Indeed Kevin Durant needed to more for his Thunder teammates.

So it is certainly a strange situation when a player who is averaging 32 points, 9 boards and 6 assists in a series needed to find even more if they were to win.

But for all his ludicrous ability and otherworldly play during this playoff series against the Grizzlies, it is these very efforts that have highlighted the Thunder’s current deficiencies.

Towards the end of their previous series, ironically against the lost son James Harden’s Houston Rockets, it was already becoming increasingly difficult to see where the support would be for the Thunder’s scoring champion.

In the past, if teams had shut out both Westbrook and Durant, Harden would ably step in to fill the vacuum with his talent for shot creation and facilitation often proving a lethal combination.

Oh how General Manager Sam Presti must now want his own time machine like Uncle Rico in ‘Napoleon Dynamite’.

But Harden is gone and Westbrook is on crutches, so surely someone else could help out?

Aforementioned Martin is a scorer and a reliable perimeter shooter, but in terms of creating his own shot he is an artist that is devoid of ideas, an issue that has come to the fore since Westbrook’s absence.

The Thunder big man Serge Ibaka, a player averaging 13 points per game in the regular season, has been as cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss throughout the first three games. He has even found a way to miss his stock-in-trade under-the-ring lay ups and 12-foot jumpers.

Durant could be forgiven for thinking the Joker himself was at play; such has been comedic efforts of many of his teammates.

But Durant also must lay claim to some of the blame.

His shot selection and ball control late in Game 4 overtime left much to be desired. He turned the ball over at a crucial stage in Game 4 overtime trying to force a shot that probably was not there.

But even these criticisms must be tempered with the uniqueness of Durant’s situation.

It can be argued that these late game issues could all lead back to the fact Durant is a man trying to be everything to everyone on this team.

The Grizzlies know this and played Durant out of his comfort zone, trusting in his teammates’ lack of confidence to step up and get the job done.

Unfortunately for Durant OKC now find themselves in 1-3 hole against a Grizzlies team who pride themselves on tough defence and sharing the ball on the offensive end.

Durant has been a superhero so far in this series, though a mere mortal can only do so much. Unfortunately for him it will now take a super human effort to see his team through and keep their title hopes alive.

A Sweet and Soward Relationship

Soward looking.... well sour.  source: Daily Telegraph
On any given Sunday a successful St George-Illawarra side is met with a slew of witty and cheeky slogans held aloft on the hills of Jubilee and Win Stadiums.

One of the most prominent, simple and eloquently constructed reads ‘Sweet and Soward’.
Right now that sign drips with a sweet and sour irony.

The banner, held up as support for the soon to be former Dragons five-eighth’s sweet play, could also represent the soured relationship the premiership winning half must now have with a club he only recently vowed to never play against.

Penrith fans will now want written confirmation of Jamie’s availability before every Dragons v Panthers game, because Soward is now a chocolate soldier, liquorice all sort, a Panther.

I must admit, Soward’s exit from the Dragons took me by surprise; seldom do clubs let go of premiership players without putting up a fight.

The apparent lack of enthusiasm shown by club chiefs in negotiating Soward’s contract is a sad way for what was a beautiful and fruitful relationship to end.

To be wanted by a club you love and offered the money you know you deserve must be a fulfilling and proud experience; so to be obviously unwanted by a club you love must be heartbreaking.

Soward was a player maligned by opposition fans but taken under the wing of the Dragon faithful through his obvious passion for a team that allowed him that most Australian of tropes; a fair go.

He was a huge factor in the Dragons run to the 2010 title under the guidance of Wayne Bennett. Soward’s style of play was masterfully worked into a Bennett system that saw his considerable strengths in kicking and organising come glowingly to the fore.

During those heady Bennett days Soward’s confidence grew on the back of a coach’s belief and a playing style tailor-made for his abilities.

In that brief, Bennett-run era success seemed omnipresent.

Soward, as the team’s number six, could rightfully lay claim to a significant slice of the winners’ pie. An influential player in a team feeding success to two merged clubs that had been starved of the ultimate prize.

But now the affair is over, and a new suitor from the southern climes is about to ride into Dragon town to assume the role as saviour of the big red V.

The tone of Dragons fans’ reactions to Soward’s departure is one of the strangest aspects to this episode of an unfortunately-timed annual horse-trading season the NRL refuses to fix.

(Surely a rule should be brought in to stop mid-season signings [not trades] for the following year, an absurd and ridiculous situation embarrassingly unique to the NRL.)

Fan forums are hot bed of hyperbole, hope and more than occasionally vitriol, but the signing of Gareth Widdop from the Storm seemed to have left Dragons fans largely unmoved by the departure of Soward.

It is as if the whole exchange was viewed as a fortunate step forward; Soward representing the adequate economy class ticket, Widdop the more desirable, business class upgrade.

But is Widdop’s signing the answer or just another question in the club’s seemingly obsessive search for a long-term playmaker?

To anoint Widdop as the saviour of the Dragons much maligned and often-benign attack is at best unfair and at worst bloody minded; a potential sacrifice to the god of instant results.

Widdop may be a harder head and more willing to place it in positions of dubious safety, but he is untested as a marquee player, having spent all of his time in the NRL playing alongside Melbourne’s big three and flourishing under Craig Bellamy’s tutelage.

Widdop’s well earned and significant reputation has largely been built around his running game and a sound defence, not the sleight of hand or high class kicking game the Dragons seem to want out of skilled pivot.

The Storm five-eighth is a class player with plenty of big game experience and if any number six has a chance of making a positive impact in a new, more responsible and high-pressure role it would be the Northern Englishman/Melbournian.

But there is no doubting the challenges Widdop faces in coming to a club that seems desperate for a creative, take control kind of five-eighth.

Foremost among these challenges is the knowledge that Widdop is replacing a passionate premiership-winning player who was effectively shown the door by a club with which he felt a close affinity through the opportunities they had afforded.

Dragons’ fans obviously hope the man to slip into Soward’s vacated number six jersey will enjoy the same sweet success the head-geared pivot had wearing the red V.

If he doesn’t, the fans may see yet another great red and white hope become the victim of a soured relationship.