STEVIE WARD is relishing the chance to resume battle with Leeds Rhinos “legend” Gareth Ellis.
At just 21, Ward is 13 years younger than his second-row rival who was twice named the world’s best player in that position.
Ex-England star Ellis won Grand Finals with Leeds in 2007 and 2008 before establishing himself in the NRL with Wests Tigers.
But now he is leading Hull FC and, at the age of 34, still proving to be one of the best around.
Rhinos host the Black and Whites on Sunday with Australian Mark Minichiello back-row also in fine fettle.
“They have been playing really well,” admitted Ward.
“Gareth Ellis is someone who was a bit of a Leeds legend when I was growing up.
“I used to watch him as a kid so it was interesting playing him earlier in the year.
“It was a good physical battle between us and I’m expecting the same come Sunday if he’s down my side.
“Hull are going really well and I thought they were unfortunate to lose at Catalans on Saturday.
“I think the outcome of this game will come down to that area too –controlling players like Ellis and Minichiello.”
Rhinos, of course, are itching to get going again as they stew on last Thursday’s disappointing home loss to Castleford Tigers when they trailed 18-0 after just 15 minutes and eventually fell 31-24.
That defeat allied to St Helens’ win over Wigan Warriors saw Brian McDermott’s side concede top spot to Saints.
The Castleford game came just four days after victory at Wakefield but now
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Leeds are only halfway through a 10-day turnaround before hosting Hull.
Ward added: “With a short turnaround, you just want to get a result and we didn’t do that against Cas.
“But now we just want to rock out there and get playing again to make things right and turn things around.”
Asked what has been Leeds’ issue of late - they have won just two of their last seven league games - Ward said: “It is a weird one.
“Our defence hasn’t been too bad and when you look at the stats from that Cas game nothing major stood out as being startlingly wrong.
“It’s just little things in our game. We have to combat teams and meet fire with fire when they are in hot spells like Cas were in that opening 15 minutes.
“We have to be up to that challenge.”
With just five regular rounds remaining, finishing top is now out of Leeds’ own control despite them being No1 for much of the year.
But Ward maintained: “We’re confident as a team.
“We’ve had a good year so far generally and we are always confident we can go all the way but it’s about the performances now and the game we’re playing this week.
“That’s all we’ve got to think about - playing Hull here on Sunday - and hopefully come the end we’ll be in a position close to challenge Saints for that top spot.”