MAKING HIS England debut this year is a driving ambition for Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward.
The two-time Grand Final winner has retained his place in England’s elite performance squad and admitted he is determined to take the next step.
Ward was in coach Wayne Bennett’s plans for the 2017 World Cup, but had to withdraw after dislocating a shoulder playing for Leeds in the play-offs.
The previous year he was called into Bennett’s Four Nations squad – after team-mate Brett Ferres was forced out by injury – despite missing most of the campaign due to a serious knee injury, but did not play in any of England’s three games.
Without those injury setbacks, Ward – who is currently recovering from a calf muscle tear – would probably already have made his England debut.
But the Leeds-born forward he said he appreciates the faith Bennett has shown in him and is determined to show what he can do at the highest level.
“It’s good,” he said of his inclusion in the elite squad.
“I’ve enjoyed being involved in these [England squads] over the last few years.
“I just need to make my presence felt in an England shirt now.
“That has been my target for a few years, it has just been pulled away for different reasons.
“I want to play for England, it is something I have wanted to do virtually all my life.”
England are strong in the back-row, but Ward is confident if he hits his best form he can force his way into the side for June’s mid-season Test against New Zealand in Denver and the three-game series involving the Kiwis in the autumn.
“I know the level of performance I want to sustain and hopefully that is good enough to wear an England shirt,” he said.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old is closing in on a return to action for Leeds.
He missed the opening game of the season following last year’s shoulder surgery and was then injured in his second comeback match, the World Club Challenge defeat against Melbourne Storm in Australia a month ago.
“I’m two or three weeks away, I think,” he said.
“It is not a big one. It is frustrating, but in two or three months I won’t even care about this.
“I have learned to cope with it. I am just getting fitter and it has also given me more time to get my shoulder a bit stronger.
“I probably shaved a bit of time off coming back for the World Club Challenge and it has given me a bit of time to get that right.” Ward added: “I just want a pre-season.
I have only had one pre-season in my whole career.
“It is a bit ridiculous, but this is like a bit of a mini pre-season and I will be right when I get back.”
Centre Jimmy Keinhorst underwent knee surgery last week after being injured in Rhinos’ defeat at Widnes Vikings on February 25.
He is hopeful of being back in contention within a month.