Leeds Rhinos: Soft defence cost us dearly in derby, admits Ash Handley

Ash Handley.Ash Handley.
Ash Handley.
THERE WASN’T much for Leeds Rhinos to celebrate amid the carnage of their 35-18 home drubbing by Wakefield Trinity, but winger Ash Handley was one of the few home players to emerge with any credit.

The 23-year-old bagged a brace of touchdowns to take his tally for the season to five and extend his try scoring run to four games.

Having switched back to the left-wing, following a run at centre last year, to replace the departed Ryan Hall, Handley was awarded the number five shirt in pre-season and has been consistent throughout the opening month of the campaign.

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That, though, was little consolation as he reflected on a hugely disappointing first Betfred Super League game of the year at Emerald Headingley.

Leeds Rhinos head coach Dave Furner.Leeds Rhinos head coach Dave Furner.
Leeds Rhinos head coach Dave Furner.

Rhinos conceded six tries, four of them in the first half and Handley admitted: “We were soft in D [defence].

“We didn’t really do anything we planned to do, it was just a poor performance all round. It doesn’t really matter about my tries.”

Rhinos – who are being linked with Cronulla Sharks prop Ava Seumanafagai – had looked to be finding their feet after a tough first two games, having recorded a big win at Salford Red Devils and then pushed St Helens all the way before being pipped by five points.

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“We had a bit of momentum,” Handley added. “With it being our first home game we wanted to kick on and get the win, but it just didn’t go our way and we struggled really.”

Jack Walker.Jack Walker.
Jack Walker.

Rhinos’ players were at work on Saturday to review the game.

“We’ll have to have a look at it, have a look at their tries and key moments in the game,” Handley said.

“We focused on having a good start because for the last few weeks we’ve been struggling to get a good start.

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“We got a good start, but when they had an opportunity they scored straight away and we sort of lost our way a bit and we couldn’t really get it back.”

Leeds improved in defence after the break and scored two late tries, both after their Australian prop Trent Merrin had been sin-binned for dissent.

Handley put that down to “just doing the things we’ve been practicing all week, a bit of structure”.

He added: “By that time the game had gone, we were finished really by then.”

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Rhinos have to pick themselves up quickly for Friday’s game at Hull.

“They are coming thick and fast,” Handley noted.

“That is a good thing, we can turn it around quickly, forget about this loss now and hopefully get a win over there.

“It is only early days, I know we’ve lost a few games, but nothing’s won at this stage.

“We will just have to go again this week.”

Assessing his own form, Handley believes he needs to keep improving.

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He said: “It’s all right, I am doing okay, but there’s a lot of things I can improve on as well.

“I will have a look at my own individual game for this week and hopefully I can improve myself.”

Meanwhile, Rhinos coach Dave Furner is hopeful full-back Jack Walker will be available for Friday.

He missed out against Wakefield due to a hamstring problem so Tui Lolohea switched to the last line of defence and forward Cameron Smith was at stand-off.

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“It was a shuffle on Thursday,” Furner confirmed. “We gave Jack as long as we could.

“I was confident in the team. Young Cam Smith is quite a clever footballer and Tui at the back was quite good, in particular in attack.

“We have got to adapt to that and be more resilient as a team when there are late changes.

“If you are playing in that position you have to know your role and go and do a good job.”

Of Walker, Furner said: “He will be close for Friday.

“He was close this week.

“He has been very good and he has been working hard.”