STEVIE WARD has added weight to his case for a regular place in Leeds Rhinos’ side this year.
The 21-year-old has bulked up over the off-season as he bids to recapture the form which made him one of the hottest properties in the game during his debut campaign three years ago.
Bad luck with injuries has held Ward back since he burst on to the scene in 2012 as a member of Rhinos’ Grand Final-winning team.
He suffered a dislocated shoulder the following April which ended his campaign and meant he missed most of the 2013-14 pre-season.
Ward made 22 appearances last term, half of them off the bench, but is looking to smash that total this year.
“I feel good,” said Ward, who is currently in Florida on Rhinos’ pre-season training camp.
“I have had a full pre-season and there’s rarely been a session I have missed.
“I have been doing everything, all the weights and so on and I’ve had a fair crack of the whip.
“I have put a bit of size on and it was good to get out there on Boxing Day, especially for the full 80 minutes.
“It was really good, I felt strong and fit and I am hoping for a good year.”
Ward said he has added around six kilogrammes since pre-season began.
“I was 93-94 kgs and now I’m around 100, so I’ve put a bit on since we started back in November,” he confirmed.
“I’m confident about this year. A lot of the staff are confident we’ll have a good year as a team and me as well.
“All I want to be doing is playing week-in and week-out and getting into a rhythm.
“If we do that, who’s to say we can’t do well – and my personal goal is to be in the team every week this year.”
Ward has played at centre and in the half-back roles, as well as second-row and loose-forward, but said he is keen to establish himself in the pack.
“I think my realistic goal is to be back in the back-row,” stated Ward, who was a try scorer in the win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on December 26.
“Two props have gone and I don’t know how things are going to shape up in the forward pack, but hopefully I’ll be looking at a back-row spot.”
The Florida training camp, which includes a game against the Jacksonville Axemen on Sunday, is Ward’s latest opportunity to impress boss Brian McDermott ahead of the new season, which is less than a month away.
“It’s the first time we’ve been back together as a team,” Ward said.
“The England lads are back in and it (being in Jacksonville) is a bit different, it mixes things up after we’ve been training at Kirkstall for seven weeks.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good laugh and get some hard work done and it will make for a good start to the year.”
Rhinos take on Hunslet Hawks at South Leeds Stadium a week on Sunday in the annual Lazenby Cup fixture and Ward is keen to play, despite plans to field a second-string side.
“You get a different type of fitness playing matches,” he said.
“I felt a lot better fitness-wise after playing a full 80 minutes on Boxing Day.
“It’s brilliant to be hitting my straps as the season gets close. That’s what you want.”
Meanwhile, former Rhinos prop Ian Kirke has suffered a minor groin strain in training and will miss Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ home pre-season game against Featherstone Rovers on Sunday.
Rovers will give a first appearance to experienced prop Paul Wood, who joined them this week from Warrington Wolves.