Big things expected from Ward
Ian Laybourn focuses on Stevie Ward as he looks ahead to the rugby league year to come.
- Related Content
Leeds Rhinos fans are used to singing 'there's only one Kevin Sinfield' but they could find themselves seeing double in 2013.
Teenager Stevie Ward has long been dubbed the 'new Kevin Sinfield' because of the uncannily familiar backgrounds of the pair as well as their similar playing styles.
Ward, who got his first taste of Super League action last March and went on to help the Rhinos to victory in the Grand Final at Old Trafford, modestly plays down the comparisons but Sinfield believes they are justified.
"He's a good lad and he's going to be a star," said the Leeds and England captain. "I find it quite humbling to be compared to him."
Ward, who turned 19 in November, says he would settle for recording a fraction of the achievements of the 32-year-old Sinfield but he went one better than his mentor by appearing in the 2012 Challenge Cup final.
Sinfield experienced heartbreak as a teenager breaking through to the first team when he was dropped for Leeds' 2000 Challenge Cup final but Ward was just 18 when he played at Wembley in August.
Ward got his big chance due to injury to Danny McGuire but only after sacrificing a trip of a lifetime to Australia, pulling out of the England academy tour in order to pursue his first-team ambitions at Headingley.
"It was a big decision for me and one that I had to make myself," said the 6ft 2in, 14st 7lb Ward.
"Before the Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan, I was in two minds but, once I knew there was a chance I would play at Wembley, I had to give it my best shot."
Leeds coach Brian McDermott had withdrawn the youngster from the senior team after three cameo appearance to enable him to concentrate on his A-levels but recalled him in mid-season and Ward went on to appear in the club's last 18 matches of the season, a glorious run that culminated in Old Trafford success.
Missing out on that trip to Australia may just turn out to be the best decision Ward makes in his career.
He has been handed the Rhinos' number 14 shirt for 2013, suggesting he is set to become a Super League regular, and Sinfield has no doubt that his protege is earmarked for a bright future in the game.
"What Stevie's done this year is terrific, studying and doing so well in his A-levels and still managing to play so many first-team games for the Rhinos," Sinfield said.
"He's going to be a great asset to the Leeds club and to rugby league in general."