Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley makes 'just getting started' pledge, outlines full-back aim ahead of Salford clash

Leeds Rhinos and England star Ash Handley has confirmed he is keen for more game time at full-back this season.
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Handley started Rhinos’ first four matches of 2023 in the centres and, after a spell out of action with ankle damage, has been on a wing for the past three.

However, injuries to Aidan Sezer in Leeds’ two most recent fixtures saw Handley move to full-back as Richie Myler switched into the halves.

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That will be an option from the start when Rhinos play host to Salford Red Devils on Friday, if Sezer is ruled out with the quad muscle problem he suffered against Leigh Leopards two weeks earlier.

Ash Handley touches down during England's big win over France. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Ash Handley touches down during England's big win over France. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Ash Handley touches down during England's big win over France. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

Handley was in his most familiar role - albeit on the right rather than his usual left-wing - when he scored a hat-trick of tries for England in last Saturday’s 64-0 demolition of France.

Along with captain George Williams, Handley was one of the stand-out players in a routine England win, but the Leeds man insisted, as far as this season is concerned, he is “just getting going”.

He said: “I had that [injury] setback and I’ve played in numerous positions at Leeds so I am just trying to get some consistency.

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“I like playing full-back and hopefully I get a chance to play there, but if it’s on the wing or centre I’ll do a job as well.”

Rhinos' Ash Handley,  middle, sings the national anthem, along with George Williams, Jack Welsby, Toby King, Danny Walker and the team mascots, ahead of his England Test debut. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.Rhinos' Ash Handley,  middle, sings the national anthem, along with George Williams, Jack Welsby, Toby King, Danny Walker and the team mascots, ahead of his England Test debut. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.
Rhinos' Ash Handley, middle, sings the national anthem, along with George Williams, Jack Welsby, Toby King, Danny Walker and the team mascots, ahead of his England Test debut. Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com.

Handley had previously played once for England against Combined Nations, but the clash with France was his first full international.

In 2019 he was called up as a replacement for the final match of Great Britain’s southern hemisphere tour.

After flying at short-notice to Papua New Guinea, he was left out of the team by coach Wayne Bennett who instead selected Handley’s current Rhinos teammate Blake Austin as an emergency winger.

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“I really enjoyed it,” Handley said of his belated Test debut. “It was a great experience to be involved in, I have been waiting a while for it to come and I was really happy with how it went.”

Handley scored England’s opening try, after just four minutes and recalled: “I was just focusing on doing the things I do well for Leeds and trying to carry that into the game. It was quite nice to get over for one early on, that settled my nerves down a little bit.”

It wasn’t just the tries Hanley was pleased with. He added: “I tried to focus on getting us out of yardage and carrying hard and I thought I did that as well, so I was pretty happy with how it went.

“We sort of dominated them in the second-half and didn’t have to do much work out of yardage, but I tried to keep my carries strong.”

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All Handley’s tries came off a kick or pass from Williams and the Leeds man repaid the favour with an assist in each of the stand-off’s hat-trick.

Williams was named man of the match and Handley said: “I enjoyed playing with George, he is a great player - one of the best in Super League, if not the best. His organisational skills and the way he can find a pass, it is great for me to be outside him.”

It was a new-look England side as coach Shaun Wane began his build-up to the next World Cup in two years’ time, with Handley and Rhinos teammate Tom Holroyd being among 13 Test debutants.

“It has been good,” Handley said of the England camp. “It has been a young group, I have enjoyed being around it again and they are all good lads, we had a laugh together.

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“I came into it off the back of my injury in round four and I’d only played three games since then so I wasn’t really ready for another break.

“It was nice to keep going and to be involved; it’s nice to be in a different environment and play with different players so I really enjoyed it.”

Handley’s hat-trick performance boosted his hopes of featuring in this autumn’s Test series, but admitted playing well for Leeds is the best way to convince coach Shaun Wane he deserves a spot against Tonga.

“I did my best [on Saturday] to stick in Waney’s mind,” he said. “You have just got to keep playing well for your club and keep doing the tough things and getting into good habits that’ll transfer to international level. I’ll just keep pushing on.”