The Leeds Rhinos captaincy won’t change me, insists Stevie Ward
LEEDS RHINOS captain Stevie Ward insists he will concentrate on playing his natural game and isn’t going to let the pressure of his new role take its toll.
Ward has filled in as skipper in the past, but his first game as official captain was Rhinos’ 30-4 win over Wakefield Trinity in the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.
Along with new signing Luke Gale, Ward was one of Leeds’ outstanding players, capping a strong performance with a fine solo try in the second half.
That was a positive sign for the new season which begins against Hull at Emerald Headingley on Sunday, February 2 and Ward stressed the captaincy will not change the way he approaches games.
“There is the opportunity to put loads of pressure on yourself, but I knew what I had to do technically with the toss and the rest of it takes care of itself,” he stated.
“Going out there and playing and being among the boys is the main thing.”
Ward played only six times in Betfred Super League 2019, after suffering a serious knee injury in February, but has trained since day one of Rhinos’ pre-season and said he “felt good, fit” in the opening warm-up match.
“It is all about easing yourself back into it on Boxing Day,” he said. “A lot of the boys are still finding their feet tactically and how we are going to work combination-wise.
“There is still work for me to do on that, working with Galey and so on, but I felt good physically and felt like I managed myself well too.”
It was an encouraging start for Rhinos who scored six tries and conceded only one.
Ward was impressed with their teamwork, reflecting: “It could have been a tricky game, but the boys showed up and really set the tone.
“There was a little bit of a dip at the start of the second half, but I am happy with how we worked for each other.
“We have got a lot of good individuals, but the trick is to make people work for each other and understand their roles in the team.
“People like James Donaldson were outstanding and Cameron Smith worked hard in the middle.
“Some of the young lads as well – Alex Sutcliffe played well after being drafted in late on and Harry Newman carried us forward pretty well too.”
The Boxing Day game was Leeds’ first since club legend Rob Burrow revealed he has the terminal illness motor neurone disease.
Ward admitted the news overshadowed the build up and is still having an impact on the club.
“I knew a bit earlier [before it was announced] so it rocked me,” he said.
“We have had a few days to get our heads around it, but it still hurts.
“As a team – and especially individually – you have got to focus on what you have to do and try not to get sucked too much into the emotion of it.
“We did that and the lads really focused on the job at hand.”
Ward stressed he – and everyone else involved with Rhinos – is there for Burrow if needed.
Burrow, now Leeds’ reserve team coach, was at last week’s game and Ward revealed: “I sat with Rob at the Rhinos Christmas dinner function for about two, two and a half hours.
“We laughed and joked as normal and we also spoke a little bit about his situation.
“He knows I am there if he wants me to come round and watch ‘The Office’ with him or to have a chat about deeper stuff.
“I will always be there, he knows he has that much support around him.
“He is a tough bloke and he will deal with this in the best way anyone could.”
Meanwhile, coach Richard Agar believes a full-fit Ward will be a key player for Leeds next year, along with Gale who is returning from a long-term Achilles injury.
“Stevie is a mentally strong character,” Agar said.
“I think some people have raised eyebrows about picking a player who has had a chequered injury past as captain, but we haven’t got a crystal ball.
“The two times Stevie had played 20-plus games in the last three or four years, this team has won the comp’.
“If that’s an omen I am happy to travel along with that.
“Stevie knows his own body and credit to our medical and performance staff – we feel we can gradually build them up to a point where they get confident in where they are at.
“They way Stevie plays the game, with his body on the line so much and his foot to the floor, potentially you can always pick an injury up here and there, so fingers crossed for both those guys.
“I think we saw [against Wakefield] they will be really important players for us.”