LEEDS RHINOS coach Brian McDermott says he would have no fears about throwing Stevie Ward straight into top-flight action, without a warm-up game.
Ward has not played in a match of any sort since suffering a dislocated shoulder in Leeds’ Super League win at Hull KR on April 28 last year.
He was named in the initial 19-man squad for last Sunday’s return to KC Lightstream Stadium, but did not make the final 17.
Rhinos no longer run a reserve team and Ward, 20, is too old for the under-19s while dual-registration partner club Hunslet Hawks do not begin their season until March 2.
Leeds are already light on forwards with Ian Kirke (ribs), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (calf) and Andy Yates (Achilles) all on the long-term casualty list and Paul Aiton (ankle) struggling after being hurt in the win at Hull KR three days ago.
Ward can play in the back-row and at half-back and McDermott – who was due to name his initial 19-man squad for Friday’s visit of Warrington Wolves this afternoon – said: “Stevie is available for selection.
“There’s three ways he can get game time. One is to play with us. Another is to play with Hunslet, but they don’t play until next month or we could put him out on loan and that isn’t an option just yet. Stevie is not far off from being selected. He has only just become available and he is in a waiting period at the moment, but we are in a quandary about how we get him game time.
“But with the modern-day player, while it is beneficial to have game fitness, you are not that far off.
“Give them 40 minutes out on the field and they will be a lot better next week. If we need to and we see it as the right thing to do, we will have no worries about putting him straight in.”
McDermott has also paid tribute to Rhinos groundsman Jason Booth, who is leaving the club after Friday’s game.
Booth, who has been at Headingley Carnegie for more than 17 years, is taking on a new role as national manager of the Institute of Groundsmanship’s grounds and natural turf improvement programme.
McDermott said: “When people talk about this club, they will talk about the team and the experience of winning things, they will quote how together it was during tough times and how good the fans are and the facilities the club has got both at Headingley and Kirkstall.
“All those things are true, but one thing that’s always mentioned is the people.
“People will always talk about – for such an affluent and successful club – how grounded the people are and how friendly they are and how together we are.
“Jason Booth epitomises all that. We are all just cogs in a big machine here, whether you are head coach, or conditioner or chief executive or the groundsman.
“Boothy has been outstanding for this club and he has run a fantastic team. The indicator of any great boss is his staff and how well they operate.
“Boothy’s staff have been great. He is handing over to Ryan Golding and Ryan is ready for the job. That’s as good a compliment you could give to Boothy as anything. Above all that as well, he is just a good bloke.
“He is very humourous and a real character. The club is losing a great employee, a great fella and a great character.
“We wish him the best and, hopefully, he goes on to bigger and better things.”