AFTER COMPLETING the full 80 minutes of their opening pre-season game, Stevie Ward is “feeling good” and confident about Leeds Rhinos’ prospects in 2019.
Despite being a two-time Grand Final winner, injuries have held Ward back at times and he was restricted to 17 appearances during the 2018 campaign.
But he has been in training since the first day of pre-season, on November 12 and his effort against Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day suggests this year’s woes are now behind him.
“I felt really good, really fit and I feel there’s still a lot more to come out,” said Ward, who was hampered by a torn calf muscle, concussion and ankle ligament damage at different times this year.
“We’ve been training really hard, my body felt fit and it was nice to be out there. I would have liked to have done a bit more with the ball, but it was a tough game to do that in because of how much ball we didn’t compete.”
Of his defensive contribution, Ward added: “The boys inside me worked really hard and there was a lot I had to get set positionally for, rather than getting involved, I feel like.
I am feeling good, it was good to do 80 minutes and we got the win which always makes you feel a bit better.Stevie Ward
“That side of my game has come on a lot and, hopefully, it still improves.
“I am feeling good, it was good to do 80 minutes and we got the win which always makes you feel a bit better.
“It is nice, improvements are coming across the full team, we are getting more understanding with each other and we are enjoying it.”
New coach David Furner is a former back-rower and started at loose-forward in Rhinos’ first Grand Final win over Bradford Bulls 14 years ago.
He has first-hand knowledge of what players in Ward’s position go through and the 25-year-old is enthusiastic about what he has brought to Rhinos.
“It is good to have Dave at the helm,” he said. “He is a very smart tactician and he knows the back-rowers’ job and the work that’s needed, so it’s good.”
Rhinos will resume training next week, following their Christmas break.
With a month to go until their Betfred Super League opener, at Challenge Cup and Grand Final runners-up Warrington Wolves on February 2, Ward admitted there is still a lot of hard work to do and improvement needed.
Trinity led 4-0 at half-time of the Christmas fixture, but Rhinos retained the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge trophy thanks to two tries in the final 18 minutes.
It was an encouraging end to a dismal year, but Ward insisted the way they have trained was not reflected in this week’s performance.
Rhino restricted Wakefield to just one try, despite being under pressure near their own line for long spells, but lacked cohesion with ball in hand.
“For the first hit out – not just for me, but the whole team – we’d probably say we’ve trained a lot better than we showed,” Ward admitted.
“We were maybe a bit rusty, with not training the day before, but I thought we defended extremely well.”