TEENAGE WINGER Ash Handley admitted yesterday’s Tetley’s Festive Challenge was a dream come true.
Nine years after being the Boxing Day mascot for Leeds Rhinos against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, the 19-year-old scored five tries in a thumping 50-28 win.
Handley, who made his Super League debut in the defeat at London Broncos four months ago, signed a long-term deal earlier this year and is regarded as one of Rhinos’ brightest academy prospects.
He underlined that with a stunning display of finishing and admitted: “It is a big confidence booster for me.”
Added the Oulton Raiders product: “At the end of last year I was thereabouts, but I wanted to get myself in better shape.
“This year I feel like I’ve done that and it’s just a good start really. It is a good confidence booster for pushing on.
“Some of the tries were good work by Ash (Golding) and Tom (Briscoe) to square people up, but some I had to do a bit more.
“I don’t really remember them – I just kept running.”
Handley played for England in this month’s two-Test series against the Australian Schoolboys and said that added to his self-belief.
“Everyone sees them as the best,” he said. “We put a good show on against them and beat them and that gave everyone a good confidence boost.
“It is a stepping stone, we will just go from there. I am used to being in the academy and it was a good step up.
“I just want to keep pushing on, try and get some consistency and keep in good shape. I want to try and keep performing as I did (yesterday).
Boss Brian McDermott felt yesterday’s performance was a result of the work Handley has done mentally as well as physically in pre-season.
“He said: “There were a couple of puts downs, not so much easy puts downs, but just getting on the end of it.
“But then there was a couple of tries when he’s showed some pace and some strength and some awareness and skill.
“He has had a tough pre-season, as we all have had. Towards the back end of last year we all made some decent decisions about what we needed to do and Ash in particular has made some good decisions. I am pleased he has got some benefits.”
Rhinos trailed 12-0 inside the opening 10 minutes and were 18-6 down at one stage, before scoring 44 unanswered points.
“The game had a good mix to it,” McDermott said.
“We were cracked open a few times by Wakefield, then we went through periods of defending really strong.
“We had some decent attack and we used the ball very well, I thought. Some people had some great days.
“Ash will get mentioned because of the tries he scored, but I thought Adam Cuthbertson and Andy Yates showed up very well and Danny McGuire was very good, as was Liam Sutcliffe.
“We will use that game. If we had been on the other end of the scoreline I would be writing it off and saying it doesn’t matter, it’s just a pre-season game and let’s not read too much into it.
“There were parts of the game we will be able to use and some things we can reinforce, that we did well. Clearly in that first 10-15 minutes Wakefield cracked us open pretty much at ease, so that’s something we’ll be looking at.”
Aussie forward Mitch Achurch was named in Rhinos’ starting side, but withdrawn shortly before kick-off.
“He slipped in warm-up and just tweaked his knee a little bit,” McDermott revealed.
“It’s a bit frustrating because – along with a few – he has had a really long, tough pre-season. He was looking forward to the game and it’s a shame he didn’t play.”
Debutant Cuthbertson suffered a “stinger” late in the game, but McDermott said that was not serious.