Leeds Rhinos try machine Ash Handley sets sights on England World Cup call-up
The World Cup is a major target for Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley this year, but he is aware England selection will hinge on playing well for his club.
Rhinos return to training on Monday at the start of what is a crucial year for the sport and on a personal note, Handley has a clear objective in mind.
“I think every year is a big one,” Handley said.
“Last year was a big one and this will be as well.
“I wouldn’t say I have an eye on [the World Cup], but I just want to be consistent in my game early on in the year and just focus on what I can control, then hopefully if things go my way, it will all take care of itself.
“The World Cup is a goal, but I have got to do little things to get there.
“I have got to play well, do my game properly and well, for that to be the reward.”
Consistency is key, according to Handley.
“I wouldn’t like to play one good game and then go five games before another one,” he added.
“My aim is to play well in every game and if I do that it’ll give me a chance to get the accolades I want and get into the World Cup squad.
“Consistency is massive.”
Handley had an outstanding 2019, when he was Rhinos’ player of the year and joint-second top try scorer in Betfred Super League, but arguably improved on that over the next 12 months.
The Oulton Raiders product was runner-up - by one vote - to Leeds’ player of the year Matt Prior, but topped Super League’s statistics for tries scored and metres made.
His finishing power has never been in doubt - he has touched down 78 times in 124 Leeds appearances since his debut in 2014 - but it was last season’s other achievement which gave him most satisfaction.
“Top metre maker was a big one for me,” he said.
“Some tries, you can just dot them down - it is a team thing and I am just on the end of them, whereas the metres I make is all about me and what I do for the team and getting the team forward.
“I am really happy with both, but I always check my stats after games and see how many metres I have done.
“That’s probably more what I look for than how many tries I have scored, it is probably more important to me.
“If I have got a lot of metres in a game, I think I can help the team more than if I get a couple of tries.”
Handley came through Rhinos’ academy into the first team squad as understudy to Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe.
He and Briscoe are now established as Leeds’ first-choice wingers, but there is competition for places from Luke Briscoe and teenage prospect Liam Tindall.
“It is good to have that,” Handley insisted. “I have been on that side of it a lot im my career already.
“You have to work hard to get there and I don’t want to be in a position where I have to challenge for my spot. I will do my best to keep hold of my shirt.”
To add some spice to the forthcoming season, Hall is back in Super League - after a two-year spell at Sydney Roosters - but in different colours.
He has signed for Hull KR and Handley is already looking forward to crossing swords with his old teammate.
He said: “It will be mad seeing him [playing for a rival team], but I am looking forward to seeing him and hopefully he can get back to what he was like before he left here.”
Rhinos’ players have had seven weeks off since their play-offs loss to Catalans Dragons and Handley is feeling “well rested” ahead of Monday’s return. He said: “Obviously it was a bit of a hectic year so I have enjoyed having a bit of time off, but I don’t really stop training, if I am honest.
“Obviously I have a bit of a break, but I like to keep myself ticking over and I am looking forward to getting into a bit more intense training.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.