TEENAGE WINGER Ash Handley can be proud of his contribution to Leeds Rhinos this year, according to the player hoping to replace him for the business end of the season.
Handley, 19, has played in 18 successive games since winger Tom Briscoe suffered a shoulder injury in March, scoring 12 tries.
He is set to retain his place tonight, at home to Salford Red Devils, after Briscoe failed to pass a series of fitness tests.
Boss Brian McDermott has confirmed Handley will be “stood down” when Briscoe is cleared to return.
But Briscoe believes Handley has a big future – and that will keep him on his toes after he breaks back into the side.
“Credit to him,” said Briscoe. “I said right at the start, the more games he played the more confident and the better he’d become.
“He has shown what he can do and how much potential he has. He has shown he is a good player and he has jumped at the chance.
“He has done a really good job and he should be proud of himself for that.”
Briscoe underwent surgery after being injured in Rhinos’ first defeat of the season, at Warrington Wolves on March 13.
He had hoped to feature tonight, but Rhinos’medical staff decided he is not ready.
“I’ve got to do some tests throughout the (next) week and when I pass those,
I will be fit to play,” he confirmed.
“It has been a long time, four months, but I have been in training for the first time this week and that has all gone well, so I can’t wait to get back playing.
“I had started coming into a bit of form when I got injured. I was a bit gutted about it, but these injuries happen and you have to get on with things.
“I’m coming to the back end of it now and I’m excited about getting ready to play again.”
Of his fitness, he said: “I am confident all the hard work I have been doing with the physios and conditioning staff will come to the front.
“They won’t let me play if they don’t think I am capable. I have worked hard and we had a bit of a conditioning session on Monday and I got through that with no problems, so I am confident about stepping straight back in, when I get the all-clear.”
Rhinos need to win their final two matches to guarantee top spot at the end of the weekly First Utility Super League rounds.
They then face St Helens in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final on July 31, before the Super-8s begin.
“I’ll see what happens,” Briscoe said of his chances of returning next week. Looking ahead to the eights, it is exciting times. We are still in top-spot [if Rhinos win tonight] and that’s a great position to be in to push on for honours.”
Salford’s hopes of finishing in the top-eight depend on them winning tonight and Briscoe predicted: “They beat Hull KR last week, so they will be on a high. It will be a tough game, but it’s two points we need. We need to bounce back after last week and we want top spot.”
Rhinos under-19s face Castleford at Stanningley tomorrow (noon).
Elsewhere, Hunslet Hawks have re-signed former Leeds Rhinos academy centre Aston Wilson, who will play on dual-registration for Hawks’ partner club Hemel Stags at South Wales Scorpions on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Batley Bulldogs three-quarter Chris Ulugia – who is on-loan from Bradford Bulls – could delay shoulder surgery until the end of the season. Coach John Kear is considering including him in the squad to face Hunslet on Sunday.