SURPRISE SELECTION Stevie Ward says he is ready to make an impact for England – in only his fifth game this year.
The 22-year-old Leeds Rhinos forward is in contention to make his Test debut when England face France in Avignon this evening.
That would be a remarkable achievement following 12 months on the sidelines due to a knee injury suffered in September last year.
After four operations Ward returned to play in Rhinos’ final four games of the campaign and was then called into England’s train-on squad at the end of the Super-8s.
Originally left out of the 24-man squad for today and the Ladbrokes Four Nations which begins next week, he was drafted in this week after clubmate Brett Ferres was ruled out by a calf injury.
He has been named in coach Wayne Bennett’s 19-man squad for the French trip and insisted he can do a job at Test level, despite his lack of game time this year.
“Being in the train-on squad I was involved with the lads and I felt I had a good couple of sessions and I could offer something if selected,” he said.
“I am ready to train as hard as I can and put myself in the picture. I am fresh and ready to go and I’m confident I can contribute. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think I could do a job.”
Ward has time on his side, but stressed his current involvement is about more than gaining experience.
“Obviously I have come down to play,” he stated. “I want to feature and be involved in that side of things, but also being around some top athletes and world-class facilities is going to open my eyes.
“I am going to enjoy every minute of it and strive for more and more. It has been a tough year, but if I find myself in the Four Nations, playing in an England shirt it will be a nice way to cap it off.”
Ward had been preparing for a road trip in America with Rhinos team-mate Adam Cuthbertson when he received his England call.
He said: “It has all been a bit mad, but the main thing is I am here and I’m ready to throw myself in.
“It is brilliant, but it was definitely a surprise. I got a phone call at 8-8.30pm on Monday.
“I was ready to go to America on Tuesday so it was a massive surprise, but a nice one and an opportunity I had to take.”
Of the cancelled holiday, he insisted: “I’ve no regrets.
“The USA is always going to be there. If you get a chance to play for England and be involved in a tournament like this, especially with the World Cup coming up next year, you’re going to take it.
“Cuthbo has been brilliant. I thought he’d have been a bit gutted, but he said it’s the chance of a lifetime to play for your country and he supports it totally.”
Of Ferres, Ward said: “I spoke to him and he’s extremely gutted.
“He has been a massive player for England over the last couple of years and we’d all want him to be out there.
“It’s a shame my selection had to come in place of him, but he will be back.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ transfer-listed full-back Zak Hardaker is set to join Huddersfield Giants after a possible move to Castleford Tigers fell through.
Tigers have confirmed their squad for next season is complete.