Leeds Rhinos v Catalans Dragons: Ash Handley aiming to build momentum after disrupted first half of Super League campaign
Getting a run of games under his belt and helping Leeds Rhinos climb the Betfred Super League ladder is Ash Handley’s priority after a stop-start first half of the campaign.
Handley is hoping to build some momentum against leaders Catalans Dragons at Emerald Headingley on Friday, following his comeback from concussion in Rhinos’ 22-16 win at Warrington Wolves four days earlier.
That was his first game for Leeds since the home defeat by Hull in May.
Top try scorer in Betfred Super League last year, he missed Leeds’ first four games of 2021 after suffering a knee injury in pre-season.
Following a four-match comeback, that flared up again and he was unavailable for the 60-6 win at Castleford Tigers in May.
He recovered to make his England debut in the mid-season international against Combined Nations All Stars a month later, but failed a head injury assessment which ruled him out of Leeds’ next two matches.
“It has been a frustrating year for me so far,” Handley admitted.
“It was good to get a game [on Monday] and good to get a win.
“I just need to get some consistency in playing now.”
The England fixture didn’t go the way Handley wanted, but was a step towards being selected for this autumn’s World Cup.
He added: “It was good to make my debut, even though it didn’t go to plan.
“I enjoyed it, I enjoyed being around the lads and being under Shaun Wane in the England set up, but I just want to start playing now and let that take care of itself.
“I want to get some good form for Leeds and take it from there.”
Handley made a strong return against Warrington, scoring a try, providing the final pass for another and making some crucial tackles in defence.
He admitted to feeling “sore” following his comeback, in a bruising game which ended with only 11 Leeds players on the field.
“I don’t think I was at my best,” he accepted.
“But I didn’t really have the best preparation for the game.
“With a head knock, you are not allowed to do anything.
“I wasn’t the best at the start of the week with it and I pretty much did half an hour’s training going into the game.
“But I was just happy to get through the game and I just want to try and kick in from here.”
Handley has come back into a team playing with form and confidence.
They are on a four-game winning streak and could welcome back a quartet of players from suspension or injury this evening.
Handley said: “I still don’t think we’ve had our full-strength side to pick from, but it has been good.
“Everyone’s putting their hand up and playing really well, even if they are out of position.
“Kruise [Leeming] is playing outstandingly at half-back and the big boys in the middle, Mik [Oledzki] and Matt Prior are doing a massive shift - and Brad Dwyer as well.
“We are all digging deep for each other and it’s showing on the pitch.”
Leeds’ will to win got them through the game at Warrington and they will need to show similar character tonight.
“We worked hard for each other,” Handley recalled.
“I don’t know how many breaks they made in the second half, but if you looked at how many of us were chasing back, compared to how many they had supporting, we had them every time.
“We just wanted to win more than them.”
Catalans have won 10 of their 11 games so far and are top of the ladder on both points and victory percentage.
They have not played since last Thursday’s 50-12 defeat of Huddersfield Giants and Handley stated: “It’s a big game.
“They are in good form, but when the games are coming thick and fast you don’t think about it too much, you just get into it and get on with it.
“I am looking forward to playing again.
“They are meant to be the best at the minute and that’s what you want to do, play against the best.”
Rhinos’ only training session was Thursday’s captain’s run, but Handley insisted: “You just need to get your body right and play.
“We all know how to play rugby so as long as we can get our bodies right and we’ve got enough energy I think we’ll be all right.”
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