Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley explains England absence, talks injury update and 'exciting' squad for 2024
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With Dom Young ill and Tommy Makinson being hurt in the first game, Handley would almost certainly have featured, but insisted the disappointment has only made him hungrier to be involved next time.
“I have been carrying a few injuries so it was good for me to get them right and have a rest. I was hoping to put my hand up for the England Test series, but I just wasn’t fit enough to be able to put myself at that elite standard you need to be to play for England.
“It wasn’t right for me to play, so I took some time to rest my body and take my mind away from rugby league for a couple of weeks. It is quite full on so you need that time to reset your mind as well.”
After his performance against France, Handley admitted withdrawing from the England squad was hard. He stressed: “It’s a difficult position because everyone wants to represent their country and I would have loved to be out there playing.
“There was an opportunity for me, but sometimes it doesn’t go your way. Hopefully I can put myself in a good position for next year. That’s what I’ll be pushing towards, it will be a goal of mine, but it was disappointing I couldn’t be at my 100 per cent best to be able to play.”
Handley has been one of Rhinos’ most consistent and effective players in recent seasons and is confident of being fit for the start of the 2024 campaign. He said: “I’ve had a plantar fascia [foot] injury since I finished the mid-season international. I was nursing that pretty much all year, but then I have got an on-going issue with my wrist as well, which has been bothering me.
“We spoke about my foot and when you are in the thick of it and games are coming week by week it is not easy to say ‘let me not do any running for three weeks’. But I think that has helped me, I’ve not done much running and not got many Ks in my legs and that has let it settle down.
“The wrist is an on-going issue and we’re still trying to get to the bottom of it, but it should be all sorted by the start of the season. There’s a long way to go yet, but we are just working around ways which are going to be best for me to manage it and keep moving forward.”
The 27-year-old’s hopes of England selection next year will depend on having a good season with Rhinos and Handley reckons their revamped squad is looking good. “It’s definitely exciting, a breath of fresh air,” he said.
“It’s no secret we needed to do a lot of business in the off-season to replace big-name players who had left us and the club have gone out and done that. It is probably one of the biggest recruitments at the club while I have been here, so it’s exciting and I am looking forward to getting to know the new guys and playing alongside them.”
Prop Kieran Hudson, signed from Castleford Tigers, is the only new addition already in training, but Handley stressed: “It is quite good it’s the group that left the camp last season that’s back in now. Everyone has refreshed their mind and has a strong mindset to be better [next] year, so it’s looking nice.”
A dozen of last year’s squad are no longer at the club including full-back Richie Myler who was released this week, allowing him to join York Knights. Handley admitted: “I didn’t expect it, but I don’t know the conversations he has had with management or what he’d been told about how much he would be playing.
“Obviously every position he covers we have signed in, so if he was told he wasn’t going to be getting much game time or playing every week, I can understand why he’d want to do that. I think York’s an incredible club at the moment, they are doing some really good things with the men’s team and the women’s team especially, so it’s a good club for him to go to.”