Leeds Rhinos loose forward Stevie Ward has been named as the club’s new captain ahead of the 2020 Betfred Super League season.
Ward, who made his debut for his home town club back in 2012, will succeed Trent Merrin and will lead the team for the first time on Boxing Day for the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge at Emerald Headingley against Wakefield Trinity, kick off 11.30am.
Ward, 26, has won two Grand Finals in 2012 and 2017 as well as the Challenge Cup in 2015 with Leeds. Before signing for the Rhinos’ Academy, he played for local amateur sides Churwell Chiefs and Hunslet Warriors.
The loose forward made his debut aged 18 and has since made 135 appearances for the club.
“I am immensely proud to be Leeds Rhinos captain,” he said.
“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.
“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.”
Leeds coach Richard Agar explained why Ward had been given the captain’s armband.
“Stevie thoroughly deserves this accolade and I know he will do an outstanding job,” said Agar.
“Last year when we looked to re-establish our standards, Stevie was one of the key members of the group and was 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.”
Luke Gale, Kruise Leeming and Alex Mellor all set to make their first appearance for the Rhinos against Wakefield Trinity.
Tongan international Konrad Hurrell is included in the starting line up as is last season’s top try scorer Ash Handley. Harry Newman will start on the wing with Liam Sutcliffe at centre.
Gale will partner Rob Lui in the halves whilst Kruise Leeming will start at hooker in his first appearance since joining the club from Huddersfield Giants in the off season.
Likewise, his former Giants team mate Alex Mellor starts in the second row alongside Stevie Ward, with Cameron Smith at loose forward.
Rhinos’ Boxing Day squad: Jack Walker, Harry Newman, Liam Sutcliffe, Konrad Hurrell, Ash Handley, Rob Lui, Luke Gale, Ava Seumanufagai, Kruise Leeming, Mikolaj Oledzki, Alex Mellor, Stevie Ward, Cameron Smith. Subs Brad Dwyer, Richie Myler, Adam Cuthbertson, James Donaldson, Alex Sutcliffe, Muizz Mustapha.