Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith hails 'exceptional' Ash Handley after comeback win at Leigh Leopards

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Boss Rohan Smith saw his Leeds Rhinos side hit back from 16-0 down to snatch a thrilling win at Leigh Leopards and then insisted he never doubted his side.

Rhinos scored 22 unanswered points in the second half to complete a third victory in their opening four Betfred Super League games, Ash Handley bagging a brace of tries which took his 2024 tally to seven. The winger also made a try-saving tackle on Umyla Hanley when the hosts were 16 points ahead. That was a turning point, but Smith stressed: “I think we all look too much at the scoreboard sometimes, rather than looking at the battle.”

He said: “There’s a reason it’s an 80-minute game. You have to be able to win in different ways and to be able to play from behind and from in front and when the scores are even. It doesn’t matter what the score is until the end. Leigh attacked some really good plays, well-executed, but aside from those moments, at 16-0 we weren’t that bad.”

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The Leeds coach felt Leigh earned their big lead, rather than Rhinos being poor. He reflected: “Some of their edge combinations were sharp and they got us, but overall I don’t think there were a lot of plays in the game when they troubled us too much, aside from some really good plays they got the reward for in the first half.

Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith at Friday's game. Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com.Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith at Friday's game. Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com.
Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith at Friday's game. Picture by Olly Hassell/SWpix.com.

“We spoke at half-time about being a bit more direct and tackling with a bit more intent and I thought we did that in the second half. The physical battle clearly went our way in the second half and we were hard to stop from that point.”

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Referee Chris Kendall felt Hanley had scored just three minutes after the break, but his on-field call was overturned by video assistant Ben Thaler. Smith admitted it would have been “a long way home” had Leigh gone 20-0 ahead with the conversion to follow. He said: “It was good desperation to get there and save the try and I think we capitalised from that point on. In the end I thought we did enough to win.”

The coach credited Handley’s teammates for doing the hard work for the reigning Super League player of the month’s third brace of the campaign. But he enthused: “His carrying out of yardage was exceptional. He is not a big man, but he plays well above his weight, he rolls his sleeves up and works hard and I love his temperament. Nothing seems to faze him, he plays the same all the time, no matter what the score is, or what the surface is or whatever else is going on. It was another strong performance from Ash.”

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Of other individuals, Smith added: “I thought [Andy] Ackers’ play selection was good. He poked his nose through a few times, went through clean. [Lachie] Miller carried the ball hard and was hard to handle. Brodie Croft came up with a few big plays and [Mat] Frawley played composed footy, good play selection and that try really made a massive impact on the game as well. I thought everyone played well for the team in the second half.”

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