Leeds forward Stevie Ward admits his hopes of being fit for their Super League opener against Warrington are looking doubtful – saying their World Club Challenge game in Melbourne next month is now his goal.
Ward played through the pain barrier with a serious shoulder injury to help the Rhinos win the Grand Final last October – an injury which eventually scuppered his chance of an England call-up for the World Cup after requiring surgery.
The forward is recovering well from the injury, but concedes he is in a race against time to be fit for February 1 when the reigning champions start their campaign at Warrington.
He told TotalRL: “Round one might be a stretch. I admit my hopes were pinned on that but I had a frustrating end to the week last week with it being a bit sore, so that kind of sets it back a bit.
“All hopes are being able to play in the World Club Challenge now. That’s my belief and my goal – and I’ve got to do that. I’ve just got to do that.”
Ward has also revealed the voicemail which abruptly brought him back to Earth after winning the Grand Final – from England coach Wayne Bennett, saying Leeds’ medical staff had decided he needed surgery rather than go to the World Cup with his country.
He recalled: “I had a voicemail from Wayne on the Saturday night, the night of the Grand Final, and I didn’t hear it until Sunday.
“Our medical staff had spoken to England’s and Wayne made the call to tell me Leeds had decided I needed an operation. After the Grand Final I was on top of the world and thought I’d be fine, but I needed the operation.
“I’ve learned to become a bit less attached and go out and do some different stuff in the off-season.”
Leeds fans, make sure to check out TotalRL next week for an in-depth interview with Ward on a rollercoaster few years – as well as an exclusive interview with new captain Kallum Watkins in this Monday’s paper.