FIT-AGAIN FORWARD Stevie Ward has reported no ill-effects from his long-awaited Leeds Rhinos return.
Ward is confident of backing up in Rhinos’ final game of the year, at home to Warrington Wolves on Friday.
The Great Britain squad member admitted getting back into action as the season comes to an end is “frustrating”, but feels his two-game cameo will provide a platform to build on for 2020.
Ward made his first appearance since suffering a knee injury away to St Helens in February when he came off the substitutes’ bench in last Friday’s defeat by Salford Red Devils.
He played the final 58 minutes and confirmed: “I got through well.”
The 25-year-old, who underwent two operations on his damaged knee, said: “There were a few tests and scrapes, but I enjoyed it and enjoyed the challenge.
“Once you’re on, you are on and that’s the only thing that’s going on in your life. I was really happy to get involved and put a bit of a stint in for the lads.”
Of his contribution, he added: “I thought it went all right. I was a bit scratchy in some areas and a bit rusty, but I was happy with the work ethic I showed.
“I felt like I could cause their defence a few issues and that’s good for a first hit-out after six months.”
It has been a long road back for the two-time Grand Final winner who was injured in Rhinos’ fourth game of the year. He had been hoping to return at the end of June, but a setback delayed that and coach Richard Agar decided not to throw him straight back into the action, ensuring he had several weeks’ full training under his belt before he was named in the matchday 17.
Ward insisted: “I was pretty calm before it. I didn’t have much doubt, it was just a matter of when I get back.
“I was pretty confident I’d be able to get there and, after the last few weeks strengthening my knee, that wasn’t a massive issue.
“It was just how much it would hurt or if I’d be able to play my best game.”
Another strong hit-out this week would send Ward into pre-season in good spirits.
Rhinos are expected to return to training in early November, giving them three months’ preparation for the 2020 campaign.
“It is a bit frustrating it’s the last game,” Ward said of the fixture in two days’ time. “I’ve just got back and I want to improve things, but I can’t change that. I’ve just got to enjoy this week at training and we want to go out on a high.
“We are working hard this week and looking individually at how we can be better than last week. We know, as a team, what we need to improve on.”
Jamie Jones-Buchanan will captain the side in his final game before hanging up his boots and another veteran, Carl Ablett, has also confirmed his retirement. That will leave Ward, who made his debut in 2012, as Rhinos’ second longest-serving player, behind prop Brad Singleton.
“Ward insisted Jones-Buchanan’s farewell makes Friday a big game, despite Leeds Rhinos having nothing to play for in terms of the table.
“It was really good for Jonesy to play last week, he played amazingly well, really shone and had a good work rate,” he reflected.
“We want to do a good job for him and for ourselves.
“We are testing ourselves against a top team and we want to play for each other.
“We have got to respect each other by doing our best.”