482 appearances between 1971-87
Inducted into Hall of Fame in 2017
In the programme for the 1972 Championship decider, David Ward is not listed on the team sheet. Aged 18, he was almost exactly a year into his first season at the club having signed from Shaw Cross. Such was his prowess and reputation in the junior game that the Loiners had to beat off competition from a number of other clubs to obtain his prized signature. And that faith already seemed to be being repaid as, in his inaugural campaign, he’d made 30 appearances, scoring four tries – three of them in four days in wins at Halifax and home to Oldham within a week of his debut – and one goal, in victory at Widnes. But he was not expected to play in the last, defining game of the season. Left out at Wembley for the experienced Tony Fisher, injury to Bill Ramsey necessitated a reshuffle.
Coach Derek Turner had no hesitation, the gnarled Fisher moved across the front row and Ward, with his bubbling enthusiasm and incessant work rate was brought in and he was nerveless in victory. It was the beginning of a wonderful association with silverware for one of the finest skippers the club have ever produced. It would come as no surprise if his middle name was passion.
Even allowing for his hooking skills in an era of contested scrums – he remains one of the last to be dismissed for technical offences – and his distributive prowess in the loose, David Ward was, more than anything, pure Leeds. His sweat dripped blue and amber.
Morley born and Dewsbury rugby educated, the England Schoolboys international spent just over 20 years at Headingley as player and coach, steering the side the nearest they had come to a league title since ’72 with a second-place finish in 1989-90 when in charge. It was a perfect example of his drive, relentless commitment and unwavering belief in his men as he had taken on the job from Malcolm Reilly part way in to the campaign and led from the front in typical standard-bearing manner. It harked back to, arguably, his finest moment as a player, leading his side to a second successive Wembley triumph in 1978.
In that 80 minutes at the Twin Towers, he showed all of his leadership and battling qualities as his side pulled back from a hitherto record deficit to claim the silverware, in no small way thanks to his momentum shifting drop goals. It would have been easy, after success at Swinton to end his first full campaign six years earlier to think that he had made it but complacency was never in his make up and he went on to appear in 14 blue and amber finals, half of them as skipper. By the end of 1977, he was at the top of his craft which was again a tale of refusing to give in. The year began with his place in doubt and Leeds heavily rumoured to have offered a fee for Featherstone’s international rake Keith Bridges.
By season end he was not only getting on a plane to play in the World Cup down under – coming up against France, New Zealand and Australia in the group stages but missing out to Keith Elwell in the final – but was the RFL’s ‘Young Player of the Year’ and inaugural ‘Man of Steel’. He went on to make 12 caps for Great Britain including returning back to the southern hemisphere on the 1979 Lions tour. In total, he played 482 matches for Leeds, crossing for 40 tries and kicked 17 goals, 15 of them drop goals.
He spanned the eras, coming on the scene when ball winning was the priority for a hooker to remodelling his game as the main organisational hub at acting half back, adapting to and succeeding at each task.
It was the same with his coaching career, taking the Heavy Woollen under 17s to national glory and then the reins at Hunslet in 1986 when retiring as a player. They won the second division title in his first season but were ill-equipped for life in the top flight. A brief stint with Workington as a player before rejoining as coach of the Hawks and then assistant at Leeds followed.
A long time motel-owner in Birstall, which serves as a function room and base for the local Victoria club of which he is President, he has also hosted a number of overseas players there on their arrival to play in England. He left Headingley for the final time on the arrival of Doug Laughton but there is still no more fiercely proud attendee and singer of the club song at the ex-player’s annual lunch.