TOMORROW’S LADBROKES Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull will test Leeds Rhinos at a “higher level”, second-rower Stevie Ward reckons.
Rhinos finished second in Betfred Super League, one place ahead of Hull, but Ward believes the showdown in front of a full house at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium will be a different ball game.
“It’s a really big game because it’s a really big test,” Ward said of the Leeds club’s 47th Challenge Cup semi-final and their 16th of the summer era.
“We are getting to the back end of the season now where these big games are coming out and we are having to test ourselves to a higher level.
“Semi-finals are always quality games, they are fast and they are tough because of the carrot that’s being dangled at the end.
“It is going to be a tough game and we know we have to stop Hull’s physical prowess to win and be in with a shot.”
Ward is set to return to the side after missing last Friday’s defeat at Wigan Warriors due to concussion.
He was one of seven players not risked last week who are likely to feature tomorrow.
“We are in a position where we could afford to rest people who have niggles,” he said of last week’s selection.
“I missed out because I had a knock on the head and I only played 10 minutes against Hull the game before so I am feeling quite fresh and raring to go and I think a lot of the other lads are as well.
“It is a nice position to find ourselves in, but we’ve got to be ready to go from the first whistle.”
Ward admitted his early injury in the 10-7 win over Hull two weeks ago will give him added incentive tomorrow.
“With the game we are in and the nature of what happens week-in and week-out, things like that are always going to happen,” he said.
“It does give you a bit more desire to play the full game and compete for the full game.
“That’s there already, but it adds a bit more.
“I feel fit and fresh and I am ready to put in a big shift.”
Tomorrow will be Ward’s second Challenge Cup semi-final.
He played in the win over Wigan Warriors five years ago, but did not feature when Rhinos beat Warrington Wolves in 2014 or in the victory against St Helens the following season.
“They are great occasions,” said Ward, who was a Wembley runner-up in 2012 and winner three years later.
“I have had some really big games in the Challenge Cup and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from being involved in them.
“I am only 23, but I am experienced in these kind of games and I am happy to be involved in them.
“To come out the other end with a win, it sends you into next week with a great feeling and great motivation to get better.
“This will be my second semi-final.
“I’ve been a bit unfortunate to miss our last couple through injury so it is nice to be in shape and to have good fitness and good health.
“So, hopefully, I can compete to the best of my ability.”