Ash Handley: Leeds Rhinos enjoying 'different' pre-season under new performance chief Richard Hunwicks

Leeds Rhinos are following the science this year as performance director Richard Hunwicks makes his mark, winger Ash Handley says.

Tuesday, 4th January 2022, 3:54 pm

Phase two of pre-season began yesterday when training resumed following a Christmas break and Handley reckons new ideas are paying off.

“It is a bit different this year, with Rich coming in, but it has kept us all fresh,” Handley reflected.

“It has been good, we have had a lot of numbers on the pitch so we are enjoying it.”

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Ash Handley says pre-season has gone well so far for Rhinos. Picture by Allan Mckenzie/SWpix.com.

Hunwicks was an assistant-conditioner for Rhinos when they won back-to-back Grand Finals in 2011 and 2012.

He left to head his own department at Salford Red Devils before joining Catalans Dragons in 2017, immediately after they had escaped relegation by beating Leigh Centurions in the million pound game.

Along with coach Steve McNamara, he had an immediate impact, helping mastermind the French side’s shock Challenge Cup success in 2018.

His final game was last year’s Betfred Super League Grand Final, when Catalans were narrowly beaten by St Helens after finishing top of the table for the first time.

Rhinos' new head of performance Richard Hunwicks. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

“He has changed quite a bit,” Handley confirmed of Hunwick’s approach to pre-season.

“It is very scientific this year, making sure everyone’s fresh on the pitch.

“It’s no use us training the house down and then only having 10 [first-choice] players available.

“That’s not what you need.

“We are all quite fresh going into the second phase.”

Injuries plagued Rhinos throughout 2021 and Handley recalled: “We started the year with about 10 first team players injured, which is no good for the team.

“We all need to be fresh and raring to go for round one and it looks like we are going to be in that position come the first game.”

Most of Rhinos’ squad were available for their opening pre-season hit-out, a 34-6 win over Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day.

One player not selected was Tonga Test winger David Fusitu’a who has joined Rhinos from New Zealand Warriors.

“He has not done much training,” Handley said of the former NRL top try scorer who arrived in Leeds last month.

“He seems like a nice guy.

“I am looking forward to playing with him and the other [new signings] have gelled well.

“They went well on Boxing Day I thought.

“It was good to see the new boys playing and clicking well.”

Handley - captain on the day, with Matt Prior rested - began his pre-season campaign in impressive style, scoring a brace of tries.

He crossed only seven times in 18 competitive appearances last year, but reckons more opportunities will come his way in 2022.

Recalling the Christmas fixture, he said: “It was pleasing to get a bit of service as well - not just the tries, but actually getting a bit of service on the wing which I didn’t really get last year. That was good.”

Only hookers Brad Dwyer, with 12 and Kruise Leeming, who crossed 10 times, got into double figures of tries for Leeds in 2021 and Handley conceded Leeds’ outside-backs “didn’t really see any ball last year”.

He said: “We had our half-backs out pretty much all year and that obviously had a big effect.

“Hopefully they can stay fit and we can see some ball next year and finish some tries.

“It [Rhinos’ prospects for 2022] looks good, we have signed some good players and there’s a lot of competition for places now.

“We have got quite a big squad as well, so I am looking forward to the season.

“We’ve still got a good six weeks to go in phase two of pre-season and I am looking forward to that and getting in good shape for the first game.”

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