Leeds Rhinos in focus - turning the spotlight on Stevie Ward

The clock is ticking and now – with four weeks to go until Betfred Super League returns – we begin our review of the players who will make or break Leeds Rhinos’ season.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 5th July 2020, 10:39 am

We will look at each of Rhinos’ senior players, what he brings to the squad, his greatest moments – along with possible weaknesses – and where he might fit into coach Richard Agar’s plan for the frantic final months of 2021.

We begin with captain Stevie Ward, who has been in the news this week over his expected move to rejoin former Leeds boss Brian McDermott at Toronto Wolfpack.

Now 26, Ward made his debut as an 18-year-old in 2012 and was appointed captain ahead of the current campaign.

Stevie Ward at Emewrald Headingley. Picture by Steve Riding.

Out of contract at the end of this season, he is a two-time Grand Final winner and has been a regular member of international squads, without yet making his Test debut.

A line-breaking ball carrier and strong defender, he has been blighted by a series of shoulder and knee problems and is currently on Rhinos’ casualty list with a head injury.

Attributes:

Ward can play in the second-row or at loose-forward, but actually made his debut – and has played in a Challenge Cup final – as a stand-off.

Stevie Ward shakes off former teammate Jordan Lilley during Rhinos' pre-season win over Bradford Bulls. Picture by Steve Riding.

He has good skills and, as the club’s longest-serving player, is a key on-field leader, but his greatest strengths are his line-breaking ability and solid defence, two attributes which made him a key player for Rhinos during their 2015 treble-winning campaign.

Defining moment:

The highlight of Ward’s career so far was probably the 2017 Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers, when he played the full 80 minutes just eight days after suffering a dislocated shoulder.

Having been hurt in the semi-final defeat of Hull, Ward was expected to miss the title decider, but his inclusion on the teamsheet gave Rhinos a psychological boost and he produced an outstanding all-round display.

Adam Cuthbertson congratulates Steve Ward after the 2017 Grand Final. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Best season:

The Churwell Chiefs product made 26 appearances – all but three in the starting side – during 2017 and was runner-up as Rhinos’ player of the year.

Concerns:

Nobody doubts Ward’s ability or what he can offer Rhinos when he is on the field, but bad luck with injuries has dogged him since the 2012 Grand Final win against Warrington.

He needed surgery on a shoulder injury immediately after that game, sustained a dislocated shoulder the following season and was sidelined for almost a year because of knee damage suffered later in 2015.

Another knee problem limited him to only six games last year and he was stood down indefinitely, because of a concussion issue, after this season’s round one.

Value:

Agar is not stuck for choice in the second-row or at loose-forward, but when available Ward will be an automatic selection.

They’ve shown they can cope without him, but are a better team when he is fit and firing on all cylinders.

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