THE long wait is almost at an end for Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward.
The 25-year-old has returned to full training and is set to make his comeback from knee surgery within the next few weeks.
Ward has not played since being hurt in Leeds’ Betfred Super League round three defeat at St Helens – whom they visit this Friday – back in February.
The derby at Castleford Tigers on Friday, July 5, is the likely date for his return, though he has an outside chance of featuring at home to Catalans Dragons five days earlier.
It has been a long and frustrating four months for Ward, who has battled through a series of injury problems since his debut in 2012, but he is confident there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
I am just putting everything into practice that I can do. I have worked really hard on my ‘rehab’ and the stuff around it and I can’t wait to get back on the field and share a bit of the journey with the boys.Stevie Ward
Reflected on his time out of the action, Ward said: “It is a weird one; through different times of the injury sometimes it felt like it was progressing and other times it didn’t.
“But now I am back running and doing contact so I am back in the main bits of it now and it’s not long until I am back out there.”
Rhinos are anxious not to bring Ward back too early, but the player is confident once he does take the field he will be ready to go.
“I am just putting everything into practice that I can do,” he added. “I have worked really hard on my ‘rehab’ and the stuff around it and I can’t wait to get back on the field and share a bit of the journey with the boys.
“My knee has reacted well over the last few weeks and it’ll be nice to get out there.
“I still haven’t played in the full [rebuilt] stadium yet, so I am looking forward to that when I get the chance.”
Rhinos have struggled throughout Ward’s lay-off and had a change of coach with Richard Agar stepping in on an interim basis after Dave Furner was sacked at the start of May.
Last Friday’s 23-14 home loss to Wigan Warriors ended Rhinos’ two-game winning run, but Ward - known for his line-breaking ability and tough defence - reckons he has seen reasons to be encouraged about the crucial final 11 games of the campaign.
Leeds’ previously leaky defence is looking stronger and Ward insisted: “There are definitely positive signs.”
He said: “We had a bit of time to work on things over the Challenge Cup weekend when we weren’t playing.
“It was chance to focus on us and what we wanted to do and I think that is beginning to pay dividends.”
Shock wins for Super League’s bottom two, London Broncos at Catalans and Hull KR against second-placed Warrington Wolves, last weekend lifted them level on points with Rhinos.
They play each other at Ealing Trailfinders tomorrow so Leeds will drop a place to 11th before they set off for St Helens.
With the team finishing bottom this year set to be relegated to the Championship the pressure is on the eight-time Grand Final winners and Ward stressed: “Every game has been important and all the more so now.
“We want to build. We have done a little bit of that, but there’s more still to do.”
Team-mate and former Australia Test forward Trent Merrin is the latest star to feature in Ward’s series of podcast interviews for his Mentality online magazine.
Ward said: “He talks about the ups and downs in his career and the art of expressing yourself.”
Log on to: http://mantalitymagazine.com/podcasts/