Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley is 'on the up' says Great Britain boss Wayne Bennett

Coach Wayne Bennett has explained his decision to call up Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley for the final week of Great Britain's southern hemisphere tour.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 5:00 pm
Ash Handley. Picture by Bruce Rollinson

England's wing problems have worsened after Zak Hardaker was ruled out of Saturday's Test against New Zealand due to a shoulder injury suffered in training.

Hardaker, the Wigan Warriors full-back, had played at centre in Great Britain's opening two tour matches, but was set to switch to left-wing this weekend in place of his former Rhinos teammate Ryan Hall who suffered knee damage in last week's loss to the Kiwis.

Warrington Wolves' Australian-born stand-off Blake Austin is set to make his Lions debut as an emergency winger on Saturday.

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Handley, Rhinos' player of the year and leading try scorer in 2019, will fly to Brisbane, where Great Britain will prepare for the PNG Test, today (Friday).

Bennett said: "I didn't want to bring anyone in for this [Saturday's] Test because they wouldn't get here until Wednesday or Thursday and we've got a group who've been here for four weeks.

"But [Handley] will have a week with us and if we do need him in Papua New Guinea we can use him.

"At the moment we don't think we will use him in Papua New Guinea, but he will be on stand-by and he'll be in the country with the team and working with us so it will make it an easier transition."

Handley featured for England at last month's World Cup Nines in Sydney and Bennett said: "He's a kid on the up, he is in the Knights programme and we are trying to bring young players out of the Knights programme as well.

"He played only recently and a lot of the guys haven't played over there [in England] for nearly six weeks, they wouldn't have trained, but he was with the Nines squad which was only three weeks ago.

"That was the main reason. Tommy Makinson should have been here, but he was injured in the Grand Final.

"We know the player [Handley] because he was with us in the Nines and he was with half the squad here.

"It makes the transition easier, I am just trying to make it simple at the moment."

Bennett selected only two wingers, Hall and Huddersfield Giants' Jermaine McGillvary, in his original touring party, along with lone specialist centre Oliver Gildart .

Gildart suffered shoulder damage in the opening defeat to a Tonga Invitational XIII and has returned to his club Wigan.

Austin - one of seven half-backs in the 24-man squad which began the tour last month - sat out the opening two matches and had not been due to play this weekend, but Bennett insisted he has no fears about fielding him on a wing.

"Blake has accepted the challenge, he wants to play and he's keen as," Bennett said.

"He is a football player, he is one of those blokes can play any position.

"I am confident, he's confident, the team's confident.

"He has done everything right at training. It is a good challenge, it's something I am not worried about."

Joe Philbin will also miss Saturday's showdown in Christchurch, due to a hamstring problem, so Luke Thompson - sidelined last week with a rib injury - will return among the substitutes.