NEW NUMBER 13 Stevie Ward is gearing up for three months’ hard work as he prepares to make a summer return to Leeds Rhinos action.
The luckless forward has endured two operations since suffering knee damage towards the end of last season, but is now ready to step up his rehabilitation.
The injury was a huge setback for the 22-year-old, who had a big year in 2015 and was on the point of an England call-up before being hurt in Rhinos’ final game of the First Utility Super League Super-8s.
“I am okay,” Ward said. “I have just got back after a break.
“I had my off-season really, I got away to Thailand and had a bit of an off-season after being on crutches and having operations and that sort of thing through the actual off-season. It is about three months post-op’ now, so I am looking at another three-plus months.”
It has already been a long road back for Ward.
“I have had two operations on my knee,” he said. “They had to go straight in to do the cartilage and meniscus, because I was in a bad way. Then you have to wait six weeks for [an operation to repair] your acl [anterior cruciate ligament].
“There were complications with that and they had to do something called a micro-fracture, where they drill holes into your bones to form new cartilage. So I was back on crutches. I had two spells on crutches, so it wasn’t easy, but I am back walking and I’m back with the lads.
“I have had a break now, so it’s all hard work from here.
“I have done it before and I have managed to keep my chin up. The club have been brilliant and I have got a good family and good friends around me.
“There are good people who support me, not just at the club, but away from it.
“I have done it tough, but people say to me all the time – and I do believe it – it will help me in the future.”
Ward is also scheduled to have a “tidy-up” operation on a shoulder next week, but that will not affect his recovery.
“I will play this year,” Ward added. “I will be really disappointed if I don’t come back this season. I am looking at May or June, but that’s just a blur in my head. Once I get a bit further on we’ll have a date to look at.”
Rhinos’ management showed their faith in Ward by handing him the iconic No 13 jersey – worn since the 2000 season by Kevin Sinfield – and a new long-term contract, despite his lay-off.
“I could go on for days about how much that means to me and how much Kev brought to the party,” Ward said. “For the club to give me that number and to sign me for another five years is brilliant news for an injured bloke. With all the young lads we’ve got playing at the moment it is exciting and it bodes well for the future.”
Meanwhile, England Youth prop Sam Hallas, 19, has been included in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad for tomorrow’s game at Catalans Dragons.
Mitch Achurch and Jordan Baldinson are also in contention to make their first Leeds appearance of the season.
Rhinos under-16s begin their season tomorrow when they face Widnes Vikings at Stanningley (noon).
The age group now combines under-15 and under-16 players and Leeds are coached by ex-Featherstone Rovers academy and Bramley Buffaloes boss Mark Butterill.