Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley talks doing things the hard way, stars' return and plea to fans v Warrington Wolves
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Leeds’ hopes of a top-six finish this season are hanging by a thread as they prepare for Sunday’s visit of Warrington Wolves.
The final six rounds of the Betfred Super League season are all effectively must-win games for Rhinos, but Handley insists they are up for the challenge.
They began round 22 in ninth place, four points outside the play-offs and the England man admitted: “Obviously it is pretty tight now.
“We need to win pretty much all our games, but we like to do things the hard way - we always do every year. We’ll just control what we can control and go game by game and see how it pans out.”
Rhinos have had a disrupted month so far, losing Richie Myler and Justin Sangare to season-ending injuries, as well as Blake Austin who has joined Castleford Tigers.
“It hasn’t been ideal, with players leaving and being injured at this crucial point in the season,” Handley admitted.
“But hopefully it gives other people a chance to step up and do what’s right for the team and try and play as well as they can.”
Handley said their presence at training has been a boost and he noted: “It has been quite unfortunate for Ganno.
“This could have been another big year for him, but he has had a lot of injury problems. He has been quite unlucky so I am looking forward to seeing him back. He has had a good few months of training and getting stronger and getting back to fitness.”
Newman is another player who has been rocked by a series of injury setbacks, but Handley reckons he can be “the saviour of Leeds Rhinos” if he finds his feet straight away.
He said: “We have got six games and I am looking forward to getting him back. He is a superstar when he is at his best so hopefully he hits the ground running and can add a lot to us.”
Warrington began the Super League season with eight successive victories, but have won only three of their last 13 and are on a seven-game losing run in all competitions.
They started round 22 in fifth place, four points above Rhinos and will be equally desperate for the points this weekend, Handley believes.
He warned: “They are a good side. They have been way off it recently, but hopefully they won’t bounce back this week.”
With Rhinos on a three-game losing run and concern mounting over the lack of confirmed signings for next year, some fans showed their frustration at the end of the defeat by Leigh two weeks ago.
The boos didn’t go unnoticed by the players and Handley stressed: “We can sense the frustration of the fans, there’s quite a high expectation at the club, but we need our fans onside with us tio give us every chance.
“They were great last year when we were on the charge, but it is easy to be like that when we are winning.
“It would be nice to get the full support of the fans when it’s not going so well. We are putting 100 per cent in to try and get sixth spot and get into the play-offs.”
Neither team played last weekend and Handley reckons the time off will help Leeds over the crucial final quarter of the regular season.
We had a little break, to get away from training and rugby and we came back in on Monday to start focusing on the next six games,” he said.
“There’s plenty of positive energy around the place and hopefully we can go on a bit of a run now.
“It is always good to have a little break and refresh your mind - it’s not just about your body, but your mind as well.
“It is pretty draining sometimes, week by week, so it is good to take yourself out of it and get away from the outside noise and just focus on yourself and your family for a couple of days.
“It has been nice, but that’s the last break for us now until the end of the year and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it.”