Leeds Rhinos: Ward is handed England call-up

Stevie Ward
Stevie Ward
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UNCAPPED Leeds Rhinos star Stevie Ward says he is ready to take on the might of Australia and New Zealand with England – despite playing just four games in the last 12 months.

UNCAPPED Leeds Rhinos star Stevie Ward says he is ready to take on the might of Australia and New Zealand with England – despite playing just four games in the last 12 months.

The second-row is one of six Rhinos players included in Wayne Bennett’s 10-man train-on squad ahead of the Four Nations.

Centre Kallum Watkins, wingers Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe, second-row Brett Ferres and transfer-listed full-back Zak Hardaker are all named as expected.

However, Ward is also in the mix, working under England’s new assistant coach Paul Anderson, despite only recently returning from a problematic knee reconstruction.

He suffered that injury in the final round of Super 8s action last season when Leeds famously won the League Leaders’ Shield on a dramatic night at Huddersfield.

However, Ward was not fit enough to re-appear until September 2 this year, playing in the 30-8 Qualifiers win over Salford Red Devils and then the club’s final three games of a difficult campaign.

Australian Bennett has always been aware of the gifted player’s potential, though, and included him in his initial get-together in June to let him know he was in his thoughts.

With players from NRL clubs and Super League’s top-four sides yet to be included, Ward admits he has some

work to do to make the final 24-man squad which will be named on Monday.

But the Morley-born forward is adamant he is ready to step up and debut even if some people my feel it is too soon after such a traumatic year.

“There’s nothing better than proving people wrong,” said Ward.

“At this stage now, having played those four games with Leeds, I feel like I was getting back to near my best in the last one against Leigh.

“I feel fresh and ready to go so this off-season has come at the wrong time for me; I’m ready to crack on and put some performances in there.

“Whether that’s with England or not who knows but I’ve never been afraid to play against the Aussies and that won’t change just because I’ve only had four games this year.

“I played with England Academy against them and ripped straight in versus Melbourne Storm with Leeds in the World Club Challenge when I was 19.

“It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Obviously, I’m just training at the minute – we started Monday and it’s been great – and it might be just with a view to going on further down the line.

“There’ll be no dramas if that’s the case. But if I get the call on Sunday that I’m in the squad, I’m 100 per cent ready to take that chance.”

Admittedly, as well as Ferres, who played all three Tests in the series win over New Zealand last year, there are numerous quality second-rows competing.

Canberra Raiders’ Elliott Whitehead is viewed as a certainty with Wigan’s John Bateman – who operated as an emergency centre against the Kiwis – also likely to get the nod.

Then there is Wigan’s Liam Farrell although one likely candidate – Warrington’s Ben Currie – has recently been ruled out due to his own anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The other players who have reported for training duty so far are Castleford Tigers’ scrum-half Luke Gale, Huddersfield Giants duo Jermaine McGillvary and Leroy Cudjoe plus Widnes Vikings stand-off Kevin Brown.

England play France in Avignon on Saturday October 22 before their Four Nations tournament begins against New Zealand at Huddersfield a week later.

England train-on squad: Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers), Jermaine McGillvary (Huddersfield Giants), Leroy Cudjoe (Huddersfield Giants), Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos) Ryan Hall (Leeds Rhinos), Brett Ferres (Leeds Rhinos), Stevie Ward (Leeds Rhinos), Tom Briscoe (Leeds Rhinos), Zak Hardaker (Leeds Rhinos), Kevin Brown (Widnes Vikings).