versatile teenager Stevie Ward feels he could have a long-term future in Leeds Rhinos centres – but he will be happy to hand that position back to more experienced hands tomorrow.
Ward has played the last two games in the No 4 role for Rhinos following an injury to Joel Moon, who is set to return to action in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup fourth round tie at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (2pm).
Normally a stand-off or back-rower, Ward said centre is a position he enjoys, but admitted he still has a long way to go before he could make it his regular role.
“I played at centre against Wakefield away in 2012,” he recalled. “I played there when I was younger, but not so much recently.
“It is a position I quite like. I enjoy the defensive aspects of it and I get to run a bit wider – I get to run at the smaller lads, which isn’t usually the case.
“It has been nice to play there, but we all want Moony back. We didn’t get the result last week, but coming back from last year and playing in a new position, I am happy with how it has gone.
“I am learning every week and if I was to play the rest of the year there, I would get better at it. It is something I wouldn’t mind doing in the future.”
Ward missed Rhinos’ opening game of the season, but has played in the last six, all but the first of those in the starting line-up.
It has been an impressive return by a player who was sidelined for 10 months due to a dislocated shoulder, but he reckons he is still feeling his way back.
“It is brilliant to be back in the rhythm of things,” Ward said. “I have just got to make sure I stay focused. I am happy with the way I have been going, because it is hard to come back after being out for a while.
“There have been things I am not happy with, but that is part and parcel of the game and improving as a rugby player. I just want to get through this season and improve each week and I will look at other things after that.”
Rhinos will be searching for an improved performance tomorrow after suffering their first defeat of the season, 14-10 at St Helens, eight days ago.
Ward said: “The stats say we should have won it, or at least taken something from it. We have taken positives away from it, but it was disappointing not to get something out if it.
“Saints did well, but Sunday is another game and another task at hand and we are just focusing on that. We had a couple of days off and then we were back into it and we are full on for Wakefield.
“We are expecting a tough game. The Challenge Cup makes it that bit tougher, especially on their ground. It’s going to be physical, after a tough game last week, but we have had a long turn-around – Friday to Sunday – and that will stand us in good stead.”
Last week’s match included more play-the-balls than any game Rhinos were involved in last season. It was a sapping contest, but Ward said rather than draining Rhinos’ energy, the players have been lifted by the effort they put in at Langtree Park.
“Keeping the ball in play for that amount of time was a big effort from both sides,” Ward said. “We will take confidence from that, it was a high standard to play at and hopefully we can put that into practice at Wakefield.”
Of Wildcats, Ward said: “I have seen a bit of them and they look really threatening. They have got players like Jarrod Sammut and Paul McShane who can create things and really test your defence.
“They are a tough side to handle in front of their home crowd and they have got quite a few ex-Leeds boys, who will want to do well against us, so that will be interesting.
“For me it will be a good experience, especially playing against Dan Smith, who I was quite close to in the academy. He went to Australia and has come back fitter, stronger and better.
“It will be good to see him and catch up with him and it’ll be a bit different playing against him. I think he will have a point to prove, because he didn’t quite get that first team chance at Leeds.
“I think Wakefield will think they haven’t got anything to lose and they will go out and have a good go in front of their own crowd.”
A Challenge Cup runner-up in 2012, Ward said the competition is “definitely a big target” for Rhinos.
But he stressed: “It is the same for every other club and we are trying to treat this as another game. We don’t have to put a special slant on it because it is the Challenge Cup.
“We have to be focused and go out and do a job, just like any other week.
“We are taking it week by week and we have to make sure we have the same mental attitude. We are not looking further ahead – we have got Wakefield next week in Super League, but we are just focusing on making sure we turn up and play well on Sunday.
“It is going to be a good test (for us).”