Tough hooker David Ward – one of Leeds’ finest captains – was born 60 years ago today. (Dec 16)
Ward, from Morley, was Leeds’ last ball-winning No 9, before a relaxation of the scrum rules made that a lost art.
Educated in the Wakefield area and playing his junior rugby for Shaw Cross, in Dewsbury, he turned down other offers to sign for Leeds in May, 1971 – beginning a glorious 15-year unbroken association with the Headingley club.
A former England schoolboy international, Ward was both tough and skilful. He tackled well above his weight and was a clever runner out of acting-half.
Above all, he was the sort of captain – and later coach – who could inspire the players around him, as he demonstrated to best effect when leading Leeds to a comeback victory – from 10-0 and 12-5 down – in the 1978 Challenge Cup final.
Ward was a member of Leeds’ Championship-winning team in 1972, the first of 14 appearances in finals for the club.
He was a Yorkshire Cup winner and Championship loser against Dewsbury the following year, came off the bench in a 1973 John Player success and won the Yorkshire Cup again later that same year.
A Premiership winner in 1975 and county cup champion in ’76, he then took over the captaincy and led Leeds to Wembley glory in 1977 and 1978, a Premiership crown in 1979 and two more Yorkshire Cup triumphs.
Wigan ended his unbeaten record as captain in major finals when they won the John Player Trophy at Wembley in 1983, but he inspired Leeds to victory in the same competition – against Widnes – the following season.
Ward was rugby league’s inaugural Man of Steel in 1977 and had a testimonial at Leeds five years later. He made 442 starts and 40 appearances off the bench for Leeds, scoring 40 tries, two goals and 15 drop goals, two of those at Wembley in 1978. He was also capped 12 times by Great Britain.
In 1986 he left Leeds to take over as coach at Hunslet, guiding them to the second division title at the first attempt.
He left after relegation the following campaign and made a brief playing comeback for Workington before a return to Hunslet in 1989.
Ward then rejoined Leeds as assistant to Malcolm Reilly, taking over as coach in 1989-90. Leeds finished second in the table that season, their best position since the reintroduction of two divisions in the early 1970s.
After leaving Leeds, following Doug Laughton’s arrival on the backroom staff, Ward coached Batley twice and Featherstone Rovers.
His son Danny also played for Leeds, from 1999-2005.