IN-FORM Leeds Rhinos second-rower Stevie Ward has admitted an England call up is a personal target this year.
Ward reckons he is back to the sort of performances which earned him chance to train with the national team in 2013, before a shoulder injury knocked his career off track.
The 21-year-old is ever-present for Rhinos this season and has been singled out by coach Brian McDermott as one of the First Utility Super League leaders’ most impressive players.
“It has always been an ambition, ever since I was training with the under-12s,” Ward said of playing for his country. “You always want to play for England and it’s that elite squad you want to be part of. Any person who gets into that’s going to be extremely happy.
“If I can replicate what some of these fellas (his team-mates) have done here over the last few years and get in the England squad and challenge a few of those back-rowers, or whatever it’ll be, that would be good for me.”
England boss Steve McNamara will name an elite squad ahead of this autumn’s home three-Test series against New Zealand and Ward said playing well for Leeds is his best chance of getting noticed.
He said: “There’s a lot of work I need to put in here still and a lot of improvements in my game I need to do. The main focus I have to have is playing week-in and week-out and playing well, that’s the main thing.
“The beauty is, it comes hand in hand – you don’t have to do anything else to get recognised. Hopefully I am doing well here and impressing the coaches and my peers.”
After missing most of the 2013 season due to injury and then struggling to regain form and fitness last year, Ward insisted he is happy just to be a regular in Leeds’ 17 at the moment.
“I just want to be playing games,” he said. “I just want to be making tackles and getting carries. I am feeling fit – it is a relentless season and you do feel it after the Easter period – but when you are winning games it makes it that bit easier. You come in with a smile on your face and train hard and keep grounded and hopefully we can keep winning.”
Ward was the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Shooting Star at the end of his debut 2012 campaign, when he was part of Rhinos’ Grand Final-winning squad.
“I feel like I am back at the stage where I am making tackles continuously and having good carries,” he added. “I feel like I am back to my younger days where I had the capacity and strength to do that in this age group. It is a big step up playing first grade, but I think I’m back there now.”
Ward will return to Langtree Park, scene of his debut three years ago, when Rhinos face second-placed St Helens on Friday. He said: “It’s a massive game, but it always is against St Helens.
“I’ve been over there, for my debut and we got a towelling and I’ve been over there and we’ve won, so it just shows both sides are neck and neck.”