Stevie Ward: Leeds Rhinos forward considered future before Grand Final
Leeds Rhinos forward Stevie Ward says he doubts whether he would have been able to return to rugby league if a dislocated shoulder had ruled him out of another Grand Final.
Ward, 23, was hurt in Leeds' semi-final win over Hull FC but recovered to start Saturday's victory over Castleford.
He was injured in the 2012 Grand Final and missed the 2015 showpiece because of a knee injury.
"There were moments where I was giving in and moving on," he said.
"I didn't think I could do another process, coming back from injury and missing another final. To have won is surreal. It's a bit of a shock and the top feels so much better from the bottom."
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Ward has had an injury-plagued career since making his professional debut for the Rhinos in 2012 and has had reconstruction surgery on his shoulder before.
But he completed a stunning turnaround after going straight to hospital from Headingley in the semi-final on 29 September, to play in the Grand Final at Old Trafford just eight days later.
"At 3am when I was sitting on that A&E bed for another seven hours and the morphine wasn't touching it, I was just facing up to the emotional pain of missing another final," he continued.
"All sorts was going through my head. I thought 'can I go through another process of coming back from injury and doing it again?'
"I spoke to [Leeds Rhinos head coach] Brian McDermott and I said 'I don't know whether I can do this again', so to come back and win, it's a bit of a shock."
'It was all or nothing'
Ward has struggled with depression during his career, but says he was able to summon the mental strength to return from a dark place after the injury.
"There was a decision I had to make the day after the semi-final. On the Sunday night I had it in a sling and I got up and tried to move it around and I thought 'there's a week in this to get back'," he added.
"I needed to make the decision then and pick the belief up to decide I would play. Everything around that mindset helped me pick it up to be able to play in the Grand Final and put the performance in.
"I had to make that choice and it's resilience, because I didn't want to miss another final.
"To potentially have it ripped away from me, there was no hesitation at the back of my mind - it was all or nothing."
'He epitomises everything about us'
From the highs of the treble win in 2015 to the lows of a difficult 2016, when they only finished ninth, Ward has been an integral part of the Leeds team that won a record eighth Super League Grand Final.
McDermott was full of praise for the young loose forward and says he had a tough week in the run up to starring in their 24-6 win.
McDermott said: "The doctor and the physio have done a great job with him, not just getting his shoulder right, but convincing him he could play. About Wednesday or Thursday, there was a chance [he could play].
"From where he's been - popping his shoulder out in the 2012 Grand Final, snapping his knee before the 2015 Grand Final, dislocating his shoulder before this Grand Final, as well as having issues off the field which he's openly admitted to - if he hadn't played, it would have been a big thing for him.
"He's just epitomised everything about us for the past 18 months."