Rhinos hero Ward: I wasn't sure I could come back again
An emotional Stevie Ward revealed he contemplated his future in rugby league prior to the truly remarkable comeback from injury that enabled him to play the full 80 minutes in Leeds Rhinos' Super League Grand Final triumph at Old Trafford.
The England back-row forward was initially ruled out of Saturday's season finale after suffering a dislocated shoulder in Leeds' semi-final victory over Hull FC the previous week.
Ward's shoulder could not be relocated on the evening it was damaged, meaning the 23-year-old - who has been plagued by injuries throughout his career to date and missed the Rhinos' 2015 Grand Final victory after being hurt in the 2012 showpiece - spent an agonising night in hospital.
After Leeds beat Castleford Tigers 24-6 to claim an eighth Super League crown, Ward spoke of the torment he had faced just eight days earlier as he waited in pain for his injury to be repaired.
"There were moments, in the early hours of Saturday morning [the previous week], I was giving in and moving on. I didn't think I could do another process, coming back from injury and missing a final," said Ward.
"At 3am, when I had to face sitting on that A&E bed for another seven hours and morphine wasn't touching it [the pain] ... it was [a case of] facing up to the emotional pain of missing another final and all sorts were going through my head."
Ward, who is viewed as a leading candidate to succeed the departing Danny McGuire as the captain at Headingley, shared his anguish with Leeds coach Brian McDermott and the club's chief executive Gary Hetherington.
"I thought, can I go through another process of coming back from injury and doing this? I spoke to Mac, I spoke to Gary, and I even mentioned it to them," he added.
"I said, 'I don't know if I can do this again'. So to be stood here, it's a bit of a shock."
Although Ward's availability for the Grand Final was not confirmed until the eve of the game, he explained his mind had been made up several days earlier.
"Obviously the nurses were brilliant, all the hospital staff were brilliant, but there was one nurse, before I went to get it [his injured shoulder] popped in at 10am [last Saturday], just tongue in cheek I said, 'what do you reckon about next week, the Grand Final?' She said, 'yeah, you'll be alright, get it popped in, you'll be alright'.
"And then there was a decision I had to make on 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. I thought I need to make a decision now on the Sunday, pick my belief up and I made a decision that I'd play.
"And then everything coming around that, that mindset, it helped me pick it up to this week, to be able to play in a Grand Final and put a performance in. I had to make that decision and it was just resilience because I didn't want to miss another final.
"There was a lot of damage but the damage wasn't on the muscle or the rotator cuff - the moving things. I had a scan, but for me, if I could move it and I could make a tackle, I was playing. And I got some good news from the specialist when he came on the Monday. He knew the gravity of the situation and he knew that I could have a crack. That just confirmed my thoughts from Sunday night.
"I knew from Monday, I knew myself. Obviously I had to get in the team and prove my fitness, but I wasn't missing it.
"To be in this position right now is surreal. The top feels so much better from the bottom."