Watch: ‘Veteran’ Stevie Ward ready to help youngsters achieve Leeds Rhinos’ goals

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It is strange hearing Stevie Ward describe team-mates as “young, hungry players” given the Leeds Rhinos back-row seems eternally one of those himself.

Perhaps it is because one of the abiding memories of him is when, aged just 18 and not long after collecting his A Level results, he featured at Wembley as the youngest Challenge Cup finalist in almost two decades.

Stevie Ward

Stevie Ward

A few weeks later in 2012, Ward also became the youngest Grand Final winner as Leeds avenged Warrington for their Wembley loss by beating them at Old Trafford.

He was rated as one of the sport’s big emerging talents, tipped to be the heir apparent to Kevin Sinfield, and to some he is still viewed in that manner now.

Yet suddenly, as another new Super League season approaches, the Leeds-born player is actually 25 years old. Just how did that happen?

“I think as soon as I got near 25 I did think I’m not a young lad any more,” Ward told The Yorkshire Post.

“It seems like it’s been ages that I have been a young lad.

“But I am 25 now and, yes, I’m in a weird sort of limbo period.

“I’m in a bit of a strange, transitional period here.

“I’m happy, though, to go in between the two and do my best job with it. And I’m after a big year, just like everyone else here.”

Another reason why Ward may still seem like such a pup is that he has had his injury problems during a burgeoning career that have limited his actual number of appearances.

Whether it be major shoulder operations, a knee reconstruction or the frustrating concussions that partly restricted him to just 17 games last term, the Yorkshireman has had plenty to battle against.

Indeed, few players deserve an injury-free 2019 more than Ward and it would be so refreshing to see him get that plus some continuity in his game once more.

Furthermore, it would allow him to hopefully reach that full potential and also earn the international recognition that he has come so close to before but, for one reason or another, not quite nailed down.

With Australian Dave Furner in as Leeds’ new head coach, tasked with revitalising the squad after they became embroiled in another relegation battle last term, and a raft of major signings from the NRL, there is no reason why Rhinos and Ward should not flourish.

“There’s a new coach, new players and they’ve added what they can and there’s a lot of keen, young hungry players that are coming up now,” he added.

“The guys that have been here are as hungry as ever for a new start this year.

“That’s what it is; it’s our time to try and put an imprint on what’s going on here and use this kind of environment we have to get those results.”

Ward originally started out as a loose forward but has increasingly been used at second-row and that where Furner envisages him playing.

“We’ve chatted a little bit and obviously we’ve covered a lot of things off in the training sessions,” said Ward.

“But I will be playing back-row and we’ve spoken a lot about – with the rule changes this year – how I personally want to attack more; add more on attack.

“With the changes we’ve made and the systems we’ve got I think that might happen. I’m excited by that prospect.

“The main task is getting Leeds firing week in, week out again.”

If the maturing Ward gets firing, you sense the two goals will arrive hand in hand.