Leeds Rhinos: Ward is determined to hit the high notes

Stevie Ward
Stevie Ward
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GIVEN he is such a purveyor of music, you clearly expect Stevie Ward to have some sort of rhythm.

When the Leeds Rhinos youngster was recovering from major shoulder surgery last year, one of the pastimes he undertook was compiling, recording and producing an album of evocative tunes for the club’s supporters.

Just like one of his big defensive hits – it is uncanny how the 20 year-old can deliver such tackles at still such a tender age – it went down a storm.

Ward knows just what it takes to make sweet music so it is not surprising when he assesses his side’s current form and admits, if they are to find their early season swagger once more, crucial remedial work has to be undertaken.

It is, though, not major surgery; Leeds, of course, are just one point behind Super League leaders St Helens with eight regular rounds remaining.

Yet Ward, despite being so relatively young compared to so many of his contemporaries, fully realises they have to find that rhythm to their play once more or, at least, dig out results.

Regardless of injuries, losing three of their last five league encounters is tantamount to failure for such a prestigious side.

Ward, who lifted the Super League title and played at Wembley while still a teenager in his first season of 2012, knows nothing is won in July but the foundations of any future success can certainly be laid now especially with a Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves looming next month.

Tonight will give Leeds their first opportunity to put right the wrongs of a 16-14 loss at lowly Wakefield a week ago when the hosts demonstrated true desperation at the end to snatch the victory and deny their West Yorkshire rivals top place in the competition.

“We showed some desperation as well,” insisted Ward, who plays his 50th game for his hometown club.

“But we didn’t cause enough problems in attack in attack and around the midfield.

“We needed to create some more issues for Wakefield. We handled them fine in defence largely and were in with a chance of a result on the night but it was one of those games.

“We have to try and find a bit of form for the semi final in four weeks’ time and that’s what we’ll look to do versus Hull KR - get them thinking about some extra problems.”

The return of pivotal stand-off Kevin Sinfield and livewire hooker Rob Burrow should certainly help vary their attacking play against a Rovers side who stunned leaders St Helens on Sunday.

A third England international – second-row Carl Ablett – is also back in contention tonight after returning from injury, too, so Rhinos should be a more familiar-looking side

He and Sinfield have missed the last two games with shoulder and back injuries respectively while Burrow has been out since fracturing his collar bone against Saints in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round in April.

Australian second-row Mitch Achurch, who has shown such signs of progress in his second campaign at Headingley, is a fourth player back in the ranks after a spell on the sidelines, though Zak Hardaker completes his five-game suspension and Kylie Leuluai (calf), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (calf), Ian Kirke (concussion) and Chris Clarkson (Achilles) are all still unavailable. Missing such a big chunk of first-team players has given the opportunity for a raft of youngsters such as Elliot Minchella, Robbie Mulhern and Josh Walters to all get a taste of Super League action.

“It’s great seeing that,” admitted Ward, with the trio of teenagers all retaining their place in the 19-man squad this evening.

“I was there myself not long ago too and it’s brilliant to see young lads coming in like that.

“It adds a bit of a buzz and adds something to the older lads too. We need it to carry on as that group of players come towards the end of their careers.

“We need to carry on doing what’s been happening here for years and years – bringing players through the Academy. We need to win some of these games though and adding a little bit of experience should help us do that.”

Leeds will require a polished performance against Rovers considering the confidence injection their East Yorkshire visitors will have received from that shock result last week. In their first game since head coach Craig Sandercock was sacked, they inflicted a 40-10 rout on St Helens at Craven Park under caretaker coach Chris Chester.

“Sometimes players get an added incentive and push on under a new coach and different systems or new ideas might be the thing for Hull KR,” added Ward. “Obviously they are looking well if they are beating Super League’s top team by so many points and they will pose a threat for us on Friday.

“We always seem to hit teams when they are just coming into top form and we’ll have to bring our own to beat Hull KR this weekend.”

He has targeted their dynamic but often erratic 23-year-old full-back Greg Eden as a dangerman.

“You always have to look at Greg Eden as he always causes problems up here at Headingley,” said Ward, who has scored twice in 17 games himself this term.

“But they have plenty of people directing them around the park and their forwards have been good too to beat a pack like Saints’.”

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

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