Warrington v Leeds Rhinos: Fit-again Stevie Ward can’t wait to get started

A FULLY-FIT Stevie Ward could be like another new player for Leeds Rhinos this year.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 2nd February 2019, 5:45 am
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 4:03 pm
Stevie Ward.
Stevie Ward.

Ward has played in only two of Rhinos’ six round one matches since making his debut in 2012 and a series of injuries limited him to just 17 games last term.

But he was in at the first day of training last November, has been named in Leeds’ initial squad for this afternoon’s opener at Warrington Wolves and is raring to go as Rhinos aim to hit the ground running.

“I am feeling good and I am excited to see what the year will bring,” said the 25-year-old forward.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Stevie Ward.

“I am excited to see how the league pans out and the quality of rugby that goes across Super League.

“I think it is going to be a really good year that’s going to be testing for a lot of teams. I am looking forward to getting stuck in.”

Leeds face a tough first challenge away to the joint title favourites who reached both major finals last year and are aiming for their first Grand Final win in eight months’ time.

“I am really excited,” Ward said. “We’ve worked hard over a long pre-season and that’s done now. That’s always good to tick off and everyone has worked their hardest and to the best they can. Now it’s time to put it into practice.”

Dave Furner will be making his competitive debut as Rhinos coach and Leeds’ initial 19-man squad for the trip to HJ Stadium includes four new signings.

It is likely to take their new-look team some time to build combinations, particularly on attack, but Ward insisted: “We are ready.”

He said: “I think everyone’s raring to go. We had the [Kallum Watkins’ testimonial] game against Castleford and that gave us a lot to work on and showed us where we needed to improve.

“That was vital for the weeks leading up to this game and everyone’s ready for it.”

Rhinos have not played a competitive match since a dismal home loss to Toronto Wolfpack last September, but Ward dismissed fears of a hangover from one of the worst seasons in the club’s history.

“We’ve been working on new stuff and had a good technical and tactical input and the boys collectively are really ready for it,” he added. “We are not even thinking about last year.”

Warrington’s Blake Austin is among a posse of star names tempted to Super League from Australia’s NRL.

Rhinos boast two in Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin and Ward believes the new batch of high-quality imports will take the competition to a new level.

“The standard will go up,” he said. “You’ve just got to hope the amount of games brings a good amount of quality across them as well. That’s always the argument, but I think with changes in the structure and changes in games – the shot clock and stuff – it will provide some entertaining rugby.”

Meanwhile, Rob Burrow will coach a mainly Rhinos academy side in tomorrow’s Harry Jepson MBE Memorial Trophy tie at Hunslet (3pm).

He has named full-time players Callum McLelland, Muizz Mustapha, Tom Holroyd, Alex Sutcliffe, Dan Waite-Pullan and Owen Trout in a 20-man squad as Rhinos look to regain the trophy following a 50-18 defeat last year.

All six featured in last Sunday’s 32-28 win at Featherstone Rovers and Liam Whitton, Joe Burton, Jack Broadbent, Ben Markland, Harvey Spence, Loui McConnell, Brad Martin and Oli Burton will also back up from that game.

The Burton twins are among five first year academy players in the squad, alongside Liam Tindall, Rian Rowley and Iwan Stephens. Sutcliffe and Waite-Pullan are the only non academy-qualified players in Leeds’ 20.

Rhinos’ squad is: Whitton, Tindall, J Burton, Broadbent, Markland, Spence, McLelland, Mustapha, O Burton, Holroyd, A Sutcliffe, Trout, Martin, Scrimshaw, McConnell, Rowley, Jowitt, Stephens, Russell, Waite-Pullan.