FOUR GAMES into his comeback, Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward is delighted to have ended the season injury-free.
Ward missed almost the entire 2016 campaign after suffering a serious knee injury in the final league fixture of last year.
Awarded Rhinos’ iconic No 13 jersey – previously allocated to club legend Kevin Sinfield –last autumn, he had to wait until September for a return to action.
Ward, 22, made his comeback off the bench in Leeds’ win over Salford Red Devils at the start of the month and also featured against Batley Bulldogs, Huddersfield Giants – on the ground where he suffered the injury – and Leigh Centurions.
He came through those matches unscathed and is now relishing the hard work which lies ahead in pre-season.
Ward said: “I have got a few bumps and scrapes, but I’m just happy to be going into an off-season when I’m not injured.
“I can go and enjoy it and work hard through this off-season and be fresh going into pre-season again.
“The last time I did that I had a good year, in 2015 and set some foundations.
“It will be lovely to go away, refresh myself and come back ready to go.”
Ward’s comeback was one of the positives from Leeds’ successful campaign in the First Utility Qualifiers.
“I am happy,” he said of how he performed.
“There was talk about me not playing at all, so to get four games in and keep picking up the sharpness and the fitness was really good for me.
“It was all about me just progressing and bringing some energy to the team and doing what I can.
“I am happy with what I did and how I came back.”
Ward did not look out of place after 12 months on the sidelines and said he deliberately gave everything he had in all four games, rather than easing himself back and trying to avoid another injury.
“You have got to throw yourself in,” he stressed.
“That is what I have learned.
“If you dip your toe in you are going to get found out.
“Whether that’s in defence, throwing your body about or just getting up after being whacked.
“I got a few high tackles, but you have just got to keep going and get on with it, otherwise you get found out and the other team will take advantage.
“You just have to go for it and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
After two substitute appearances, Ward started in Leeds’ defeat at Huddersfield nine days ago and played the full game against Leigh Centurions last week.
Rhinos’ 37-12 success, with a team missing 12 members of their senior squad, secured top spot on the middle-eights table, salvaging some pride from a hugely disappointing year.
“I am happy with that,” Ward said of his 80-minute effort. I think I did all right. I think I contributed to the team, that’s all I wanted and I am glad I did that.”