LEEDS RHINOS forward Stevie Ward laid a ghost to rest with a strong performance in the 40-30 win at Hull KR two days ago.
It was Ward’s first appearance on the ground since suffering a season-ending dislocated shoulder there 22 months ago.
And Ward reckons the victory and his performance has helped put the biggest setback of his career behind him.
“It was good to get there and get a win,” said the 21-year-old second-rower. “We know what happened last time I was there and that went through my head a bit before the game.
“When we went into the changing rooms I could remember a bit of a bad time in that changing room when the game was going on and I was in a bit of discomfort with my shoulder, so it was nice to go there and everything be all right and to have a good game and especially to come away with the two points.
“It was a big test, one of the biggest tests I’ve had as a player. The pace of it was really quick. Hull KR put some good kicks in and they were strong in the tackle. They went really well and I think they are going to really cause some damage this year, so it was good to get the win and to go home happy.”
Rhinos scored the game’s first and last tries, but in between had to twice come back from 14 points down. Ward reckons their fightback proves Leeds have lost none of the resilience and determination they have become known for over the past decade.
“We fixed things up on the run,” he said. “When we know we are going wrong we need to sort that out straight away and it’s lucky we’ve got some old heads in the team that can calm things down and steer us in the right direction.”
The shoulder injury suffered at Craven Park in 2013 meant Ward had a disrupted pre-season last year and he made only 22 senior appearances. He has bulked up this winter and produced some eye-catching performances in Rhinos’ trial games before his strong display two days ago.
“I am happy with it,” he said of his performance in the opening league game. “It was a tough job to get through all those minutes, with the amount of workload we all had to do across the board.
“There was a lot of defending, but personally I am happy, especially it being the first game. Hopefully I can just kick on from now and put some more performances in and keep starting games as well.”
Selection in the season-opener was recognition for the work Ward put in since training began last November.
“It has been a long pre-season,” he recalled. “It’s been 14 weeks we’ve been training solidly, with a few games, so to be there at the front when we’ve got the first game is good for me.
“Hopefully that will set me in good stead for the rest of the season. I want to be there for the rest of the year, so we’ll see how we go and work on things in training and see what happens with that.”
With just 22 more fixtures before the competition splits into Super-8s and Qualifiers, Ward said the key thing for Rhinos now is to maintain the momentum they built up in the second half of their opening league game.
“I thought we were good in the tackle,” he said. “But it was the first game and Hull KR really caught us out with some of those kicks. We are really going to have to look at stuff like that in training, so we can defend that in the future.”
Rhinos have a short turnaround to Friday’s visit of Widnes, who hit back from 16-0 down – with only 12 men after Patrick Ah Van was sent off – to draw at home to Wigan Warriors last Thursday.
Rhinos’ first home game of the year will be a big one for Ward, because of Chris Clarkson’s presence in the Widnes ranks. Clarkson is on a season-long loan from Leeds and Ward said: “It will be interesting, with Chris being my housemate. He is still there, for half of the week.
“It will be exciting for Clarky to come up against us and have a bit of a battle. I think the night before the game we’ll have to talk about it, but it’ll all be in good spirits. Once the kick-off comes it will be a tough game and he’s just another opponent.”