LEEDS RHINOS’ Stevie Ward hopes to give England coach Steve McNamara yet more second-row options in 12 months time – but first he has to prove to Brian McDermott he is worthy of a regular role at Headingley.
The forward is rated as one of the most talented young players in the British game having shot to prominence, playing in both the 2012 Challenge Cup Wembley showpiece and Grand Final when still just 18.
A former England Academy international, he was invited to spend time with McNamara’s full squad and was clearly earmarked as a future star in the making.
But Ward, now 20, has endured some wretched luck with injuries since, so much so that he found it difficult to hold down a spot for Leeds this term.
McNamara has picked nine debutants for his 24-man England squad that started their Four Nations in Brisbane morning, showing he is willing to select fresh talent including prolific second-row Elliott Whitehead.
Ward admits that is a carrot – not that he needs one – for him to kick-on in 2015, a year that ends with New Zealand playing a three-Test tour over here.
“Elliott Whitehead’s showed with his move to Catalan and playing regularly he can do as well as anyone and he’s now over there with England in Australia,” he said.
“I’d love to be in that position next year. Steve’s proved that he’s not scared to pick different players and that’s good for me and lads my age.
“But I’ve got to do my best just to get in this Rhinos side so it’d be a dream to get into the England one.
“That’s the main thing to get a regular spot here at Leeds and just be in the team more regularly I was this year.”
He was restricted to just 10 league starts and, with competition from, among others, Carl Ablett, Brett Delaney, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Mitch Achurch, faces plenty of competition.
Ward’s chances will be aided, though, by the fact he is set to get a rare full pre-season under his belt.
“It’s exciting as I’ve not had one of those for three years,” he admitted. “I’m looking forward to that and having that chance to start the year straight away, hitting the ground running.
“In previous years, I’ve been doing rehab after injuries and ops and missed out on a lot of training and that catches up with you at the back end of the season.
“It’ll be great to be there from the off with the boys, getting that fitness work done as I’ve missed
out on it before, and the team-specific stuff, too.”
Although Leeds’ only major signing for 2015 is Newcastle Knights prop Adam Cuthbertson, Ward feels they should be in great nick.
“I do think this season we’ll have one of the best squads we’ve had for some years,” he said, Leeds having won the Challenge Cup this term but finished a disappointing sixth in the league and eliminated by Catalan in their first play-off. “We’ve still got the older heads with all their experience as well as the youngsters coming through who have developed, too, so it leaves us in real strength.
“For a good few weeks after we were knocked out this year it did linger for a bit.
“But everyone has moved on now and we’re moving forward to the new season.
“I’m getting to the stage where I’m starting to miss playing rugby and going training so I can’t wait to get back in. A good pre-season can’t make a season but it can break one.”