REcovering Leeds Rhinos star Stevie Ward admits he was “elated” to be involved in Wayne Bennett’s first get-together as England head coach.
The uncapped second-row attended the meeting in Leeds earlier this month despite having not even played yet this season due to a serious knee problem.
Ward, 22, has been sidelined since suffering the injury last September on the night Rhinos clinched the League Leaders’ Shield amid famous scenes at Huddersfield Giants.
However, it is a sign of his undoubted talent and potential that despite that ongoing lay-off, Bennett – the veteran Australian who has succeeded Steve McNamara as national boss – included him in the 31-man group that has started looking ahead to this autumn’s Four Nations.
Ward told the YEP: “Just to be kept in the loop, to be invited and kept aware of what’s going on, I was elated.
“I’ve not had too many opportunities to be involved in the past – due to injuries or different things – so to know Wayne is aware of me was a real boost.
“It was great to hear the direction he wants to take us in and the plans he has going forward are exciting.
“I had a quick chat with him and was really grateful to be involved.
“I’m glad just to be ear-marked and hopefully I can be involved again as time goes on.”
Ward hopes to return for Leeds soon but, after such a problematic spell out, admits he will not put a timescale on his recovery as the club’s medical and physio staff take him through the final stages of his rehabilitation.
“The third operation I had on it knocked us back a bit,” conceded the Morley-born forward, who won the 2012 Grand Final with Leeds and the Challenge Cup last season.
“It got us in the area where we’re not now looking at putting a proper date on things.
“I’m wanting to get back pretty soon and by the end of the year. I was looking at the Hull game (July 8) but now we’ve decided just to see how the knee reacts to the latest stuff we’ve been doing.
“We’ll just see how this next stage goes. To be running and joining in all the stuff again is a real big thing for me.
“I’ve done some accelerating and decelerating and being stuck on crutches like I was does seem a long time ago now.
“But we won’t rush it.”
During his enforced absence from the field, Ward has launched an online magazine called Mantality whose niche is an “acknowledgement of the state of mind” and deals in “brutal honesty.”
Living up to that promise, as editor-in-chief, he last month published a fascinating, thought-provoking and brutally honest piece he had written himself regarding, among many things, his own battles with depression during another injury lay-off two years ago.
Ward, who famously received his A-level results the week he played in the 2012 Challenge Cup final for Leeds, said: “It’s such a tough period.
“I’m coping well and it’s a bit of a different situation compared to how I was two years ago.
“Mntality is keeping me driving.
“It’s going in a different avenue but it’s helping me keep focused and producing something I can be proud of.
“But it’s something else to do aside from rugby, too, which is important.
“People think you can only do one trade at a time.
“For me, playing rugby is something I’ve enjoyed all my life but I’ve also enjoyed writing as well.”