A WEEK before receiving his second Grand Final winner’s ring, Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward was considering giving up rugby league.
Ward was in hospital, in pain and waiting for a dislocated shoulder to be reset.
Seven days later he played the full 80 minutes of a sapping clash with Castleford Tigers and the agony and upset suddenly seemed worthwhile.
Ward’s recovery from the injury suffered in Rhinos’ semi-final win over Hull, eight days before the Old Trafford showpiece, was the most remarkable story of Leeds’ eighth Super League triumph.
The 23-year-old damaged a shoulder in the 2012 Grand Final win over Warrington Wolves, followed by a dislocation the following season.
Two weeks before the 2015 title decider he sustained serious knee damage and did not play again for a year. When the shoulder went, he felt he had reached the end of the road.
Speaking after Rhinos’ 24-6 triumph at Old Trafford he said: “There were moments in the early hours of Saturday morning [the day after the semi-final] I was giving in.
“I was giving in and moving on. I didn’t think I could go through another process, coming back from injury and missing a final.
“At 3am when I had to face sitting on that A and E bed for another seven hours and morphine wasn’t touching it, you’re facing up to the emotional pain of missing another final and all thoughts were going through my head.
I was giving in and moving on. I didn’t think I could go through another process, coming back from injury and missing a final.Leeds Rhinos’ Stevie Ward
“I thought ‘can I go through another process of coming back from injury and doing this?’.
“I spoke to Mac [coach Brian McDermott], I spoke to Gary [Hetherington, Rhinos’ chief executive].
“I even mentioned it to them. I said I don’t know if I could do this again?
“So to be in this position right now it is surreal. It’s a bit of a shock. The top feels so much better from the bottom.”
READ MORE - Grand Final bow so ‘special’ for Rhinos’ Burrow
Ward said a chance remark by a nurse helped him turn things around.
“My shoulder was still out at 9am Saturday morning and I was in pain – morphine wasn’t touching it,” he recalled.
“I probably couldn’t think straight. The nurses were brilliant. All the hospital staff were brilliant.
“Before I went to get it popped back in at 10am I said, tongue in cheek, to one nurse ‘what do you reckon next week, Grand Final…?’ and she said ‘Yeah, you’ll be all right, get it popped in and you’ll be all right’.
“There was a decision I had to make on Sunday. Sunday night I had it in a sling.
“I got up and tried to move it around, I thought there’s a week in this to get back.
“I knew I had to make the decision then on the Sunday.
“I picked my belief up and made the decision that I’d play and then everything came in around that. That mindset helped me pick it up this week to help play in a Grand Final and put a performance in.
“I had to make that choice and make that decision and it was just resilience as I didn’t want to miss another final.
“I knew from Monday I’d be playing.
“I knew myself – obviously I had to prove my fitness and get in the team, but I wasn’t missing it.”
Rhinos’ win provided the dream finale for captain Danny McGuire, who will join Hull KR next year.
Rob Burrow, another eight-time Super League champion, hung up his boots after the game.
McGuire, Leeds’ man of the match, reckons Rhinos are in good hands with leaders like Ward at the club.
“Danny McGuire’s special isn’t he?” Ward said.
“He picks the night to come out and prove how good he is.
“He’s outstanding and for him to say that about me is lovely.
“But that’s all to come out in the wash. Who knows what will happen?”