Leeds Rhinos: Hooker Robbie’s happy to learn his trade

Robbie Ward.
Robbie Ward.
0
Have your say

Teenage HOOKER Robbie Ward is aiming to take another step forward when Leeds Rhinos travel to Doncaster tomorrow for their final pre-season game.

Ward has been one of Rhinos’ busiest players during the off-season and the Keepmoat showdown will be his eighth game since the end of the previous campaign.

He played for Leeds under-19s against the touring Australian Schoolboys at the start of December and featured for England academy in both Tests with the same opposition, scoring a try and then being sin-binned for fighting in the second match, which the home nation won.

He also played for Leeds against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats on Boxing Day, USA Pioneers during the recent training camp in Florida and Hunslet Hawks in the Lazenby Cup two weeks ago.

Then last Saturday he was dual-registered with Hunslet and featured in their pre-season defeat by a strong Salford Red Devils side.

“Salford put a full-strength side out and they were brilliant,” Ward said. “They were too good for us, but it was good to play alongside the Hunslet lads. It was a good experience to play with some different players and to get used to what they bring to the team.

“I want to play as much as I can and it was good to play against Salford’s full-strength team.

“If I want to play Super League this year that’s what I’ll be up against. I am still learning, I am still young and to play against a team like that was good for me.”

Ward, 19, played most of his junior and youth rugby with Normanton Knights, but joined Rhinos from Leeds club Oulton Raiders, where he was part of two National Cup-winning teams. He made his first team breakthrough ahead of schedule last year, after first-choice hookers Paul Aiton and Rob Burrow were sidelined due to illness and injury.

Ward scored a try on his debut, in a home win over Hull and also touched down in the Challenge Cup quarter-final win against Leigh Centurions. Five of his seven appearances were in the starting line-up and Yorkshire Evening Post readers voted him last year’s Shooting Star, as the young player who made the biggest impact in 2014.

All that led to promotion into Rhinos’ full-time squad and the No 24 jersey for the new campaign, but he insisted he is under no illusions about how difficult it will be to establish himself in the senior 17.

“I am just looking to play well, whether I play for Leeds, or Hunslet or the under-19s,” he stressed “I just want to do my best and push for a first-team spot.

“It is going to be tough trying to get in front of Rob and Paul, because they are both great players.

“But I want to be ready for if they ever get injured or can’t play, so I can step in.

“Elliot (Minchella) has been playing a bit at hooker as well, so I want to try and keep my spot. If he’s fighting for it I have got to try and stay ahead of him.”

The dual-registreation move to Hunslet – alongside James Duckworth, Luke Briscoe and Robbie Mulhern, who are also in the side for tomorrow’s game – offers Ward an opportunity to keep learning with and against good players, while remaining part of Leeds’ squad.

“The Championship is a good standard and it will be better for my physicality (than playing in the under-19s), but I will play wherever I’m told to play,” he said. “Hunslet seems like a nice set-up and they have got a nice stadium.

“The pitch was still a bit torn up last week from when we played there the week before, but it is a good place to be.”

Of tomorrow, Ward said: “Doncaster are one of the top Championship teams and it will be a good test.

“I am still young and I am trying to learn off Rob and Paul as much as I can.

“I’ve done my first pre-season with the first team and it has helped me a lot working with better players.

“Hopefully it is going to pay off for me.”

Rhinos under-16s are also in action tomorrow, against St Helens at Thatto Heath (11.30am).

Leeds Rhinos (at Doncaster): Hardaker, Duckworh, L Briscoe, Keinhorst, Handley, Sutcliffe, Lilley, Mulhern, R Ward, Yates, Achurch, Walters, Minchella. Subs Brierley, Milton, Frankland, Hallas, Golding.

Referee: Adam Gill.

Kick-off: Tomorrow, 3pm.

Niall Walker.

Utility back Niall Walker pens 12-month deal at Hunslet