TWO GAMES into his comeback, Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward is “feeling good” and confident about the rest of the season.
The England elite squad member will be key to Rhinos’ hopes of beating Wigan Warriors – and climbing to second in Betfred Super League – tonight.
Ward underwent shoulder surgery after last year’s Grand Final and made his first appearance of the campaign as a substitute when Rhinos defeated Hull Kingston Rovers at Elland Road on February 8.
He started the following week’s World Club Challenge, in Melbourne, but suffered a torn calf muscle in the first half and did not play again until the 20-0 win over Salford Red Devils on Easter Monday.
The back-rower, who has been included in England’s elite training squad ahead of this year’s Tests against New Zealand, also featured in the 28-26 victory at Wakefield Trinity five days ago.
After his stop-start opening to the year, he says he is in good shape and happy to be back on track.
I’ve got some good game time,” said the 24-year-old who topped Rhinos’ tackle count against Wakefield with 38.
“That will stand me in good stead. I have felt good, I was a little bit tired in patches [last Sunday], but I think that is normal when you’re playing a team like Wakefield, off the back of the fixtures over Easter.”
Ward insisted “There’s some room for improvement and I want to be making more strides forward, but it is good to be back in the swing of things and playing with the team.”
Despite missing five games – and having played only twice before that – Ward reckons he is not far off being back up to full speed.
“I don’t think it will take me too long,” said the two-time Super League champion, who played in last year’s title decider just eight days after suffering a dislocated shoulder. Sooner rather than later – I am probably a harsh critic at times, but I want to be near my best sometime soon.”
Ward started both his comeback matches in the second-row, but made a rapid switch to the left-centre against Salford after Tom Briscoe went off for stitches in a cut leg.
He maintained Rhinos’ clean sheet with a stunning tackle to barge Jake Bibby into touch just short of the line and said he is happy to change roles if required.
“I don’t mind playing in the centre,” Ward said. “You do a bit less tackling, so it frees up a bit more time to get hold of the ball. I didn’t mind it too much and that’s what happens over the Easter period, things get rejigged.
“We have got a lot of experienced lads who can handle that sort of thing, so we are all right on that aspect.”
The visit of second-placed Wigan will be a big test for Ward and the team.
“These Friday nights are brilliant, when we are playing teams like Wigan,” said Ward, who scored a hat-trick when Rhinos beat Warriors at Headingley in last year’s Super-8s. “I know the boys are looking forward to it.
“We’ve been looking to rest up this week and hopefully we can pick it up another gear and go again and really test ourselves.”
The win at Wakefield was a morale-booster for Ward whose car – a white VW Golf R – was stolen from his driveway last Friday. The thieves are believed to have used fishing equipment to hook the car keys through the letterbox of Ward’s house.
The vehicle, registration YA67 RPU – is still missing.