ENGLAND WORLD Cup hopeful Stevie Ward reckons he – and Leeds Rhinos – have taken a significant step forward.
Ward played the full game against Catalans Dragons last Saturday and scored a crucial try in Rhinos’ 30-24 victory.
It was the 23-year-old forward’s seventh appearance of the season, continuing his comeback from recent injury problems and provided a major boost to his own confidence and the team’s morale.
Having played just four games last year following knee and shoulder surgery, Ward, who is a member of the national side’s elite performance squad, endured another frustrating spell on the sidelines earlier this term after tearing a hamstring.
But he came through a tough clash in sapping heat in the south of France unscathed and admitted he feels he is getting back to where he wants to be in terms of both fitness and form.
“I’m just coming back from a hamstring injury that has been niggling and niggling away, but on Saturday it felt really good,” he said.
“It was good to get that 80 minutes out of the way in a solid performance.
“There’s still areas I need to work on; concentration, for me, is something that needs to get better and better, but I think that will come with game time.
“We’ve got quite a bit of the year left so I am hoping to work on that and just some basic parts of my game really.”
Minutes on the field are crucial for Ward, but he added: “It’s also training time.
“I’ve missed a lot of training time as well.
“It is good to get a lot of playing time, but I just want to slot in with the lads and do the big shifts for the boys.
“Looking back on Saturday’s game there were so many times when we seemed out on our feet and there were some tired bodies, but there was some remarkable stuff from people like Adam Cuthbertson, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire. As a back-rower you are tired and you want someone to lift something out of the bag and they did it.”
Rhinos are at home to Barrow Raiders in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup on Sunday before a three-game spell – against Castleford Tigers, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings – which will be crucial to their hopes of a top-four finish in Betfred Super League.
Coach Brian McDermott rested senior men in the Cup round-five win over another Kingstone Press League One team, Doncaster, but Ward said he is keen to play a part this weekend.
“I want to get some games in and some solid performances,” he stressed.
“Game time is massive for me – to get back-to-back games and that competition going is really important.
“Barrow are looking like one of the best sides in their competition and we know slip-ups can happen so we will be doing everything we can to make sure we are training hard and going well this week.
“It is going to be a tough performance needed and this is a really big month for us.
“To get a good win like we did last week was fantastic and we are really keen to get into the rest of the games.
“We want to try and create another platform.
“No one said the year would be easy and we need tough performances like that.
“It gives us great confidence.”