Leeds Rhinos have paid tribute to former captain Stevie Ward, who has announced his retirement from Rugby League, aged just 27.
Ward played just one game last season for the Rhinos as he dealt with concussion symptoms. He was out of contract with Leeds during the close season and has now taken the difficult decision to retire from the game.
Ward made his Leeds debut as a teenager back in 2012, featuring in a Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in his first season. He was part of the Leeds side that won the Grand Final that year. He won the Challenge Cup in 2015, adding League Leaders Shield honours later that year. Unfortunately, a knee injury suffered in that game side lined Ward for a year and prevented him playing in the Treble winning Grand Final at Old Trafford. However, he added a second Grand Final winners ring in 2017 with a heroic performance. In total, he made 136 appearances for the club, scoring 23 tries.
On his retirement, Ward said: “I have come to the conclusion, after over 11 months of severe symptoms, that I need to give this injury the respect and time it deserves and cannot put my health and brain to any further risk and detriment.
“On a daily basis, I struggle with migraines, dizziness, motion sickness, sensitivity to light and screens, short-term memory issues, slurred speech, and an inability to exercise or do daily tasks without irritating my symptoms.
“I love the game of rugby league. I am immensely proud to have competed on some of the biggest stages next to childhood heroes and test myself to the absolute limit while feeling the incredible buzz from the Leeds fans after being one myself as a youngster.
“I thank every player that I have played with and against, and I am especially grateful for the incredible friendships the sport has given me.”
Leeds Rhinos Head Coach, Richard Agar, commented: “It is always disappointing when any player is forced to retire from the game prematurely due to injury but especially when it is someone with so much talent and potential as Stevie Ward.
“I know that our medical team have worked tireleslly with Stevie this year to try and find a positive outcome however unfortunately Stevie has now taken the difficult decision to begin the next stage of his journey after Rugby.
“On a personal level, when I became Head Coach back in 2018, Stevie was one of the senior players who was a catalyst for change and getting the club back to our core values.
“Having made Stevie our captain a year ago, personally it is sad to see his career end this way, but I am sure he will continue to work with Mantality and bring the same level of professionalism and expertise to his future work that he has shown on the field throughout his career.”
Leeds Rhinos Director of Rugby, Kevin Sinfield, added: “On behalf of everyone at the Rhinos, we would like to thank Stevie for his contribution to the club throughout his career.
“Having come through our Academy ranks he has gone on to be a Challenge Cup winner. I had the pleasure of playing alongside him and we wish him all the best for the future.”