Stevie Ward has spoken of his “immense pride” after being named Leeds Rhinos’ new captain – while the crowdfunding campaign for his former team-mate Rob Burrow has already surged past the £150,000 mark.
Loose forward Ward, who debuted for his hometown club as an 18-year-old in 2012, succeeds Trent Merrin and will lead the team against Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day at Emerald Headingley.
Having won two Grand Finals and a Challenge Cup with Rhinos he said: “I am immensely proud to be Leeds Rhinos captain.
“It is something I have strived towards since I first picked up a rugby ball and it has not always been easy but I’ve had some remarkable people to learn from along the way to help me achieve it. I am excited about 2020. All of the boys are on the same page and working for each other.
“There is a real energy going into the New Year.
“I feel like we are creating a strong new identity for the new decade.”
Ward, 26, added: “The response of everybody to the news about Rob Burrow last week shows what the Rhinos represents.
“The connections and memories we all can make and the personal relationships we can build, should be the foundation of any success that we have.
“This is something the team has been working to cultivate already but we now have an even bigger purpose to fulfil in making sure that the ‘Rhinos Way’ continues to thrive.”
At one point in 2018, Ward stepped in as captain for Merrin’s predecessor Kallum Watkins but now gets the job on a permanent basis ahead of other candidates such as England scrum-half Luke Gale.
Leeds head coach Richard Agar said, “Stevie thoroughly deserves this accolade and I know he will do an outstanding job.
“Last year when we looked to re-establish our standards, Stevie was one of the key members of the group and instrumental in forging our future.
“He has shown great maturity in recent years in how he has dealt with adversity.
“We saw at the end of last season, the impact he had on our team on the field and I am looking forward to seeing him lead the side out on Boxing Day morning.”
Meanwhile, Yorkshire cricket star Jonny Bairstow is auctioning a Test shirt signed by the England squad to raise money for Burrow’s battle with motor neurone disease.
Three Lions international Bairstow is a personal friend of former Great Britain star Burrow, who only revealed his diagnosis on Thursday, with the pair getting to know each other while Yorkshire and Leeds shared facilities at Headingley.
The crowdfunding campaign set up to assist the 37-year-old in his treatment, as well as providing support for his family, had already reached more than £158,000 last night.
Bairstow has done his bit to help despite being on tour in South Africa, arranging for his team-mates to sign the shirt and opened the memento for offers in an Instagram video.
“I just wanted to put a few words together after hearing the news about Rob,” he said.
“It’s desperately disappointing and upsetting for me to have heard the news.
“It’s something that’s hit me pretty hard having watched him over a long period of time in Headingley.
“The determination and strength he’s shown over a long career is testament to himself, his family and his friends.
“I know he’s going to fight this battle with that exact same determination.”
Also, more than 5,500 tickets for recently retired Leeds forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial versus Bradford Bulls next month – now a joint fundraiser with Burrow – were sold in just 48 hours.
Neighbours Bulls have also donated all their ticket sales to the fund.