AFTER an injury-plagued year, Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward plans to be in from day one of pre-season this autumn.
Ward, 24, has made 17 appearances for Rhinos this term, 11 of them in successive matches between April and June.
After shoulder surgery in the close-season, he has endured a series of separate injury setbacks – beginning with a calf muscle problem February’s World Club Challenge at Melbourne Storm – and an ankle syndesmosis suffered against Hull KR in round three of the Qualifiers ended his campaign.
It has been a frustrating 11 months for the back-rower since he played the full 80 minutes of last year’s Betfred Super League Grand Final just eight days after a shoulder dislocation. But he is upbeat about his prospects for 2019 and determined to make it a “special year”.
He said: “I’ve only ever had one pre-season since I was 15 and the rate of injury has been really, really frustrating.
“This year’s not been good for anyone, but particularly me when I’ve been trying to get some games together and lead the team and do my part.
It has been frustrating, but the positive for next year is I will have a full pre-season.Stevie Ward
“It has been frustrating, but the positive for next year is I will have a full pre-season.
“I am coming back early for it and I’m going to really take some momentum into next year and, hopefully, have a special year.”
Barring a bizarre sequence of results, Rhinos’ season will end against Toronto Wolfpack tomorrow and the first batch of players are expected to resume training in November.
“I will be starting from day dot,” Ward added.
“A lot of the older lads will come back a bit later, but I’m coming in at the same time as all the young lads.
“I’ll be doing all the preparation and the tough stuff.”
Ward was hurt making a tackle in the second half of the two-point loss to Hull KR earlier this month.
“I played on in that last 20 or 30 minutes, but it’s not been right to run or train,” he said.
“It’s a bit annoying and it hurts you even more the fact you can’t contribute.
“That’s something I’ve just got to deal with and get through these next couple of months to put the hard work and hard graft in from November.”
Rhinos will be starting pre-season with a clean slate under new coach David Furner, a former back-rower who spent the final two seasons of his playing career at Leeds and was a key member of their 2004 Grand Final-winning side.
Ward said: “It’s exciting to have a new coach, new systems and new things put in place.
“Everything will freshen up for next year and I am really excited for it.
“Dave Furner is an attacking coach over there (in Australia’s NRL competition) and he played back-row.
“I think that’s good for me.
“I know he’s a tough character and a tough player.
“He helped develop people like Kevin (Sinfield, Rhinos’ director of rugby) and it’s great he’s back.
“He is one of us in that regard and I’m happy about that.”