Leeds Rhinos have handed injured forward Stevie Ward the iconic No 13 jersey for 2016 – and a new five-year contract.
Ward is the first Rhinos player to be awarded a squad number for next season, but is set to miss the early part of the campaign.
The 21-year-old will inherit the number occupied by club legend Kevin Sinfield for 15 years until his move to Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union Club last month.
News of the new contract and promotion up the squad list comes on the day Ward is due to undergo surgery to repair a knee ligament injury.
Ward has made 82 appearances for Rhinos since his debut in 2012.
He was a Grand Final winner in 2012 and played in the 2014 and 2015 Challenge Cup final victories, but missed this year’s Super League triumph after damaging a knee in the win at Huddersfield that secured the league leaders’ shield.
“I am immensely proud the club have decided to give me the No 13 squad number, it is a dream come true,” Ward said.
“I was six when Kev first wore it, so that is all I have ever known and it is an honour to receive the number after him.
“Growing up supporting the Rhinos, it was my dream to play for Leeds, but it was always the No 13 shirt I wanted to wear.”
Ward added: “I was really pleased with how last season went for me, it was my most consistent season so far.
“Since I suffered the injury it has obviously been frustrating, but I am positive about the future. The injury was complicated so things have had to take their natural course.
“I will have the operation on my knee [today] and it will be assessed after that how long I will be out for.
Ward’s new deal will keep him at Leeds until the end of 2020.