GRAND FINAL winner Stevie Ward says he is getting a reputation in Leeds Rhinos’ squad as a jinx.
Ward has been named as 18th man – the non-playing reserve – four times this season and found himself drafted into the team at late notice three times.
The 19-year-old’s most recent SOS came last Sunday, when he was called on to the bench against Catalan Dragons after Kylie Leuluai pulled out during the warm-up.
A similar thing happened in the away game against Warrington Wolves, when Brett Delaney was taken ill en-route to the match and Ward came into the team against Leigh Centurions in the Challenge Cup the following week, after Danny McGuire dropped out.
Ward said: “We have got a bit of banter going on about me being 18th man. I always seem to come into the team and people are joking, saying I have got a hoodoo.
“I am always concentrating on the game, whether I am playing or not and I was really focused the night before last week’s game, in case I was playing.
“I knew Kylie wasn’t 100 per cent. Unfortunately Kylie wasn’t fit so I got to play and hopefully I had a good effect on the side.”
Ward added: “It is a tricky position to be in. You have got to be focused and ready to play, but at the same time you don’t want to be getting so excited and then not playing.
“It is difficult, but I think the best thing to do is go 100 per cent and then if you are called upon, you are ready.
“It has happened three times this year – there’s only been the Widnes away game when I was 18th man and I didn’t play.” Ward missed most of last season after suffering a dislocated shoulder away to Hull KR in April.
He admitted he is still finding his way back to top form.
“I think I probably just needed to give myself time and to focus on defence and things like that,” he said.
“It is obviously tough coming back from a shoulder injury. Maybe I got too ahead of myself.
“I just need to slow it down, I think and get the basics right.
“There’s still a lot of work to do, definitely.
“I have had good spells here and there. The Leigh game was a highlight for me and the Huddersfield game, but since then Mac (coach Brian McDermott) has just decided to go with other people.
“I just need to look at things and do the basics properly and hopefully I can carry on and start playing better from there.
“When I am not playing it is tough, because you want to get out there.
“After you have played you can feel happy about yourself, but it is just about doing all the work in the week coming up to a game and making sure I am in the side.”
Meanwhile, Dewsbury Rams have announced that Shane Grady has signed a new contract which will keep him at the club until at least the end of 2015.
Since arriving at the Rams ahead of the current season, Grady has emerged as one of the team’s outstanding performers and is already rated as one of the best centres in the Championship.
“We’re very pleased to have Shane on board for next season,” said Rams head coach Glenn Morrison.
“He has been a stand-out performer this season, playing both centre and second row, and I’m sure he’ll be a valuable player for us moving forward.”
Grady joins existing squad members Tommy Gallagher and Anthony Thackeray in putting pen to paper on new contracts.