GRAND FINAL hero Stevie Ward is confident of being fit for the start of Leeds Rhinos’ Betfred Super League title defence.
Ward underwent surgery at the end of last season, but insisted he is “feeling really keen and eager to get back into the swing of things” with just 20 days to go until the big kick-off.
The 24-year-old forward played the full 80 minutes of last October’s Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers, just eight days after suffering a dislocated shoulder during Rhinos’ semi-final victory against Hull.
The injury cost him a place in England’s World Cup squad, but he expects to be available for selection when Rhinos travel to Warrington Wolves on Thursday, February 1.
That is a significant boost for Rhinos as they face up to a tough start to the campaign including a World Club Challenge showdown with Melbourne Storm in Australia on February 16.
He said: “I’ve had a good off-season, coming off the back of the shoulder injury and the operation.
“It has been a similar theme [to previous seasons], missing some training sessions, but I should be right for the start of the year.”
The operation “went fine”, according to Ward, who added: “He [the surgeon] said he had a lot to do and there was a lot of work to be done and there’s going to be some stumbling blocks in the re-hab, which there always is.
“But it’s all right, it is feeling good and getting stronger every day.
“I am more than believing I will be ready for the start of the season, then I’ll see what happens. It is exciting.”
The surgery meant Ward had an extended winter break, but he returned to training before Christmas.
“I had a good day on Monday and felt a lot of improvements,” he said.
“At the back end of last week I wasn’t feeling as good, my shoulder was a bit sore, but I’ve been keen to get back in with the boys.”
Ward had surgery on a shoulder injury suffered in the 2012 Grand Final and missed much of the following season due to a similar problem.
Serious knee damage in the final league fixture of 2015 kept him out of all but the last four games of the 2016 campaign. After a spell on the casualty list during preparations for last year, he went on to make 26 appearances and was runner-up to Joel Moon for Rhinos’ player of the season award.
After being dogged by bad luck during his first six years in Rhinos’ senior squad, Ward insisted he is not spending time stressing over getting through the forthcoming campaign unscathed.
“What will be, will be,” he said. “There’s no telling what will happen over the next year.
“I’ll just play my rugby to the best of my ability. I have not attached too much to it [being injury-free], I can’t control it so I have just got to go with the flow. That can be hard at times, but it is something I have got better at.”