football on twitter
Please wait while we load football on twitter...
Leeds teenager Stevie Ward has turned down a trip to Australia in order to push for a place in the Challenge Cup final.
The 18-year-old loose forward, who has been dubbed the new Kevin Sinfield, was due to fly out on Thursday with the England Academy squad for their four-match tour but has decided to put club before country and on Tuesday signed a new five-year contract with the champions.
Ward, who recently completed his A-levels, made his Super League debut earlier this year and was a substitute in the Rhinos' 39-28 Challenge Cup semi-final win over Wigan last Saturday.
Had he gone on tour, he would have missed Leeds' next four league games which would effectively rule him out of contention for the Wembley showdown with Warrington on August 25.
"I spoke with my family, team-mates and (coach) Brian McDermott and everyone said they would support me whatever I decided to do," he said.
"For me personally, I feel I need to keep playing with the Rhinos at this stage, having broken into the squad.
"We have got some very important games coming up in the league as we look to move up the table and, of course, we now have Wembley on the horizon at the end of next month.
"Part of being a professional sportsman is that you have to make sacrifices and live with your decisions and, whilst this has been the toughest decision of my life, I believe it is the right one.
"I wish John Bateman and the rest of the England lads all the best for the tour and I know they will go there and down themselves and the country proud."
Ward will now focus on Leeds' derby with Bradford at Headingley on Friday, having committed his future to the club at least until the end of the 2017 season.
"Leeds is my home and everyone at the club has made it so much easier for me to come into the first team this season and feel part of the squad," said Ward, who has appeared in the Rhinos' last six games.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott said: "Stevie is a very exciting talent and someone we are proud to call one of our own.
"I know the decision to withdraw from the England tour was a tough one for him and was not taken lightly.
"This has been a big year for him as he has finished his A-levels, made his Super League debut and has now signed a new long-term contract.
"He is a very determined character and I am sure we will see some exciting things from him over the next five years in both a Rhinos and an England shirt."