LEEDS RHINOS rising star Stevie Ward is ready to rebuild his career after a nine-month injury nightmare,
Ward emerged from the darkness when he entered the action as a 19th minute substitute in Rhinos’ 18-12 win over Warrington Wolves three days ago.
He was replaced after 59, but came back on for the final six following an injury to skipper Kevin Sinfield.
The 20-year-old had not played a game of any sort since suffering a dislocated shoulder in Rhinos win at Hull KR on April 28 last year.
Nerve damage meant his lay-off was much longer than expected, but Ward reported no ill-effects and said: “I got more game time than I expected and it was just good to get out there and get in among it.
“The position of back-row/loose-forward means you are right among it straight away, so I was really happy to be involved and to be helping the team along. To get that many minutes was great and hopefully I can push on now.”
Ward admitted the lack of match practice was in the back of his mind before Friday’s game, but he added: “I had my goals and my mindset was that it was no different to what I have been doing in training. I set my mind on doing the hard work and the hard stuff for the team and it was really pleasing to get through and for us to get the win.
“That was the main aim, for me and all the fellas. It is a big thing to get a win against Warrington. It was the first home game of the season and it sets our stall out for the rest of the year.”
Being on the bench meant Ward had time to think about what he was about to be let in for, before he was called into action.
“My nerves were pretty bad,” he admitted. “But I think it was good that Mac [McDermott] threw me on so soon. It stood me in good stead for the rest of the game.”
In an ideal world, Ward would have had a run out away from the first team first. But Rhinos no longer operate a reserve side, he is too old for the under-19s and dual-registration partner club Hunslet Hawks don’t begin their season until next Sunday.
“Mac is good, he is always honest,” Ward said.
“The situation was if I didn’t get into the side in the next few weeks I would be playing for Hunslet.
“I took that as it came and I’d have been happy to play for Hunslet if it came to it, but I got back in the side and here we are now.
“Mac showed a lot of faith in me and obviously the team feel all right about me playing, so that is a big boost as well.”
Ward made his Rhinos debut almost two years ago, as a half-back in a defeat at St Helens on March 25, 2012.
He was a Challenge Cup runner-up that year, but suffered a shoulder problem during Leeds’ 2012 Grand Final win over Warrington Wolves.
Both shoulders have given him trouble during the early part of his career, but Ward is confident that is all now behind him now.
“The shoulder is absolutely fine,” he said of his recovery from last year’s dislocation. “I have got a sore body like you would expect, but it is a great feeling to be back in among it and to have finished a game again.
“I played for 40-odd minutes so I am not going to feel the full effects, like some of the boys who played for 80, but it is good to have that feeling again, of being bashed about. You can’t think about it, there was no thoughts about whether my shoulder would be all right, I was just thinking about my performance and hoping I would be good.
“I wasn’t thinking or worrying about my shoulder, I just wanted to get in among it and be lively among everyone. I want to kick on now.
“It is one step at a time and I have got my first game under my belt, which is the biggest one to do, especially against a team like Warrington.
“That has given me a lot of confidence.
“And hopefully I will be elected for Friday’s game, I can go from there and forget about the past nine months, which has been pretty tough.
“It has been that long, once you get past six months you forget what it feels like to play.
“You feel a bit out of it, but as soon as you are back in among things with training, the boys just treat you the same and it is great to go from training to being in a game again and being back in the side and part of things.
“Jason Davidson [Rhinos’ head of athletic performance] has got me really fit, doing some tough sessions.
“You aren’t happy when you are doing them.
“But you realise the benefit of it when you are out on the pitch – and Andy Barker and the other physios have really done a good job to get me out there and in a fit state to put up with the pressures of being in a game.”