LONG-TERM CASUALTY Stevie Ward today began full training with his Leeds Rhinos teammates for the first time in 11 months.
Ward has not played since suffering knee damage in Leeds’ final Super-8s game of last year, at Huddersfield Giants on September 25.
He has since undergone three knee operations and a minor one on a shoulder, but is hoping to get back on the field this term.
“I believe I will get a game in before the end of the year,” Ward said. “Everything in my mind is to get a game in. This week I am back training with the boys and I am doing everything I can, so if I think it and believe it, it will happen.
“I am going to try and excel in training and everything I do towards that.”
Ward, 22, admitted there could be a case for him writing off this year and focusing all his attention on being fit for the start of 2017.
“There’s definitely that argument and there has been those thoughts,” he conceded. “But if I think I can do it and I believe it, then why not?
“If my knee’s up to it and I feel as if I can play rugby league, if it’s 100 per cent, it’s 100 per cent. I’m not going to just say ‘let’s have another pre-season’. If it’s there, let’s do it.”
This week’s return to full training was a major milestone for Ward. He added: “I have been warming up with the boys, but this is the first week of contact and on the same schedule as everyone else.
“It has been a long time coming and it feels good to finally be with the boys and doing all the same things.
“It is awesome, when you have three operations and two spells on crutches you can’t see the end.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is here now. It is a nice feeling and all the hard work and support I have had has paid off.
“I’ve got to mention [physios] Andy Barker and Ben Harper and [conditioners] Jason Davidson and Ian Kirke.
“They have looked after me and kept me going. They keep things interactive and different and keep your mind going as well.
“They are really into that and that’s what I’ve needed.”
The past year has been testing as much mentally as physically for Ward, who has spoken of bouts of depression earlier in his lay-off. That is behind him now and he said: “I have been training my mind to be a lot more positive, to make things happen and to do stuff that a year ago I wouldn’t have thought could happen.
“I am in such a good place now and, with the fact I am getting back towards playing, I am in a happy place and hopefully I can finish this little chapter with a few games at the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, Rhinos are awaiting an update on Brett Delaney who suffered a knee injury in the win at Featherstone Rovers three days ago. Brett Ferres damaged an ankle in the same game, but is hopeful of being fit for Friday’s visit of Hull KR.