Back-to-back man of the match performances have confirmed Stevie Ward’s return to his 2012 form, but he is not interested in making it a hat-trick tomorrow as long as Leeds Rhinos win at Castleford Tigers.
Ward was chosen by coach Brian McDermott as Rhinos’ outstanding player in the win over Wigan Warriors 13 days ago and again following last Saturday’s victory at Catalans Dragons.
The 21-year-old is ever-present for Rhinos this term, starting all seven games so far in the second-row and scoring his first try of the campaign at Stade Gilbert Brutus.
Ward has been regarded as an outstanding prospect since his days in Rhinos’ academy and was a Grand Final winner in 2012, at the end of his first season as a senior player.
But he suffered a dislocated shoulder in April, 2013 which kept him sidelined for the rest of the year and meant he was unable to get a full pre-season under his belt ahead of the following campaign.
He made 22 appearances last year, half of them in the starting side, without fully regaining his previous form.
But he got a long pre-season under his belt, bulked up and admits now that he is pleased with the way things are going so far.
“I am mainly happy because of the results really,” Ward said.
“Obviously when we went over to Warrington they played really well and we weren’t up to standards, but it is great to have won six out of seven.
“I am just really, really happy with that.
“Going over to Catalans last week and getting a win, there’s not many better feelings because it’s one of the toughest tests, playing over there in front of their crowd. It was all credit to our players.”
The defeat at HJ Stadium raised question marks over Rhinos’ credentials as title contenders this year, but they have bounced back with victories against two other well-fancied sides.
“It was a weird game,” Ward said of the loss at Warrington. “We found ourselves 12-0 down at half-time again (after a similar situation at Hull the previous week) and I think it was just through a lack of spark in attack.
“But I think from that game we’ve got used to grinding results out and sticking with it.
“The younger lads are getting used to being in the game and trying to come out with something and that’s the main thing we took out of it.”
Rhinos conceded three quick-fire tries at the start of last Saturday’s second half before staging a dramatic fightback, but Ward said fitness and determination have been key factors in their positive opening to the season.
“It does tire you out when you do a lot of defending,” he said.
“But it’s credit to our conditioners because they’ve got us to a stage where we can soak pressure up, go on the attack and take the sting out of it.
“We’ve just been going hard and we are a fit side at the minute.
“We need to avoid injuries and keep going, but we’ve got a tough test over Easter.”
Round seven’s results saw Rhinos go top of the First Utility Super League table.
And Ward said: “We wanted to be in that position by Easter.
“It is a great position to be in, but the hard work is still ahead.
“We were in this position last year, but we just need to stick with it and keep working hard.”
Ward reckons last week’s victory was good preparation for tomorrow’s trip to the Jungle, where Tigers are on a three-game winning run.
“Catalans is a big test at their ground, but Cas are just as tough, if not tougher,” he said.
“It’s a really tough test to play there.
“With the players they’ve got, they play a similar thing to us – they’ve got quirky players and off-the-cuff players, so it’s a game where concentration needs to be 100 per cent all the way through.
“It is going to be a really good test and if we get the two points there we will be happy.”
Tigers are expecting a big crowd for the 12.45pm kick-off.
Ward added: “It is a really hostile environment, like Catalans.
“I can’t credit the fans enough for going over to France in their numbers.
“When you come out and hear ‘Marching On Together’ at an away ground, that’s something really massive.
“All I ask is for them to do the same at the Cas match and hopefully we can match them on the field as well.”
Rhinos are also in derby action on Easter Monday, at home to another West Yorkshire rival, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
Ward reckons Easter could be a crucial part of the season.
“I think it will iron out the standards for the rest of the league,” he said.
“It is a big road bump. You need to get over it and if we can get over that with some good form and some good results we are looking to stay up at the top all year.”
Castleford Tigers from: Boyle, Carney, Clare, Cook, Crossley, Dorn, Finn, Gale, Gibson, Holmes, Lynch, Massey, Millington, Milner, Moore, Roberts, Shenton, Webster, Wheeldon.
Leeds Rhinos from: Hardaker, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Sinfield, S Ward, Delaney, Achurch, Cuthbertson, Sutcliffe, Singleton, Walters, Yates, Handley.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Kick-off: Tomorrow, 12.45pm.