DEFENCE-SPLITTING forward Stevie Ward has revealed the secret behind his sparkling early-season form: sharing a house with two of his Leeds Rhinos team-mates.
Ward lives in the Headingley area with Mitch Achurch and Zak Hardaker and said the in-house rivalry and comradeship has given his form a lift.
The 21-year-old second-rower has started in all Rhinos’ three competitive games this year, producing a series of eye-catching performances.
“It’s all good,” Ward said of the unusual living arrangement.
“We’re in a good location and we’re all pushing each other to get better with diet and strength and training, it’s all really beneficial to me.
“It is a little pocket outside Kirkstall [Rhinos’ training base] where everyone wants to get better.
“We can relax and chill out, but we know when to push each other.
“We are living and working together, but we are all odd in our own different ways, so there’s different things to spark off and we are all encouraging each other to be better.
“It’s a good set-up for us all and it’s beneficial to us all to have a good laugh outside rugby as well.
“It is great for diet and things like that, because we all pick each other up on stuff. It’s not like a madhouse, we are all really focused on what we are doing.
“We are living just around the corner from the stadium as well, so it really has been a big boost.”
Rhinos prop Brad Singleton – whose non-rugby playing friend still lives there – is a former housemate and Chris Clarkson, who is spending a year on loan from Leeds at Widnes Viking, also recently moved out.
“It’s like Big Brother,” Ward said, referring to the reality TV show. “Zak has just moved in. We’ve got him cleaning now – we’ve told him it’s an initiation, he has to clean every night. That’ll be for a year.”
Ward was a Grand Final winner with Leeds in 2012, but suffered a dislocated shoulder the following year and admitted he never got fully back on track last term – which has made the good start to this season even sweeter.
“When you’re injured the only thing you think about is getting back fit,” Ward recalled.
“It was a bit of a misty year last year. I came back fit, but I don’t think I was 100 per cent where I should be.
“Coming back from something like that takes a long time. Even when you’re playing it takes a lot of time to get back into the game and into the physicality of it, because it’s getting better and more physical each year.
“I think I was probably a bit behind on that, but hopefully now I have caught up to it. Just getting back fit and playing has been good for me and I want to make that step up where I can do what I want now.”
Ward’s break set up a vital try for Tom Briscoe in the second half of Thursday’s win over Huddersfield Giants and he said: “A lot of my game is based on tackling hard and running hard.
“If I can get through the line with a bit of pace and a bit of evasion, that’s all good for me.
“I used to do that in my amateur days so it’s not unknown for me to be able to do that.
“Hopefully I can keep it going and cause a stir in the defensive line. That’s all I want to do really.
“On Thursday there were a few defensive lapses, but overall I feel a bit stronger.
“I was struggling with my calf a bit at the start, but it’s just good to be out there playing.”
Ward reckons Rhinos will need to play better at Hull on Thursday than they did in the 28-24 win two days ago.
“I think we went away from the game plan a bit offensively, but defensively there were a few lapses, especially on my part,” he conceded. “We will need to fix that up. We’re three rounds in, so we’ll see what happens.”