A SECOND HAT-TRICK of the season against St Helens has boosted young Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley’s confidence, but he was happier with the team’s win than his own personal achievement.
Handley made his 17th successive appearance – since being drafted into the side four months ago – in Rhinos’ 46-18 victory over Saints last Friday and the hat-trick took his tally of tries to 11.
Rhinos are now three points clear at the top of First Utility Super League and Handley, who also scored a treble in Rhinos’ 41-16 victory at St Helens in April, said that was the most pleasing aspect.
“I don’t really know what happened – I just kept pushing through and supporting,” he said of his treble.
“I am glad I got the hat-trick and we got the win. That was the most important thing, because Saints are chasing us in the table.
“They were only one point behind us, so to beat them quite comfortably like we did, I think it was a really good, rounded team performance.”
Handley has been targeted by opposing teams throughout his run and has endured some difficult matches, but feels he is learning every week.
“I have had a few dodgy weeks recently,” he conceded.
“I am just glad to get my confidence back by scoring that hat-trick.
“Hopefully, I can push on now and get back to what I was like in the first few games. I never expected to play 15-plus games at the start of the season.
“To play alongside so many class individuals is great for me and my development.”
Handley is not in Rhinos’ 25-man full-time squad, but got an unexpected opportunity when Tom Briscoe suffered a shoulder injury five games into the season.
The England man is getting close to a return and Handley admitted Briscoe will be ahead of him in the pecking order when fit.
“Obviously Tom’s a world class player,” Handley said.
“He is an international player, but I just want to play as well as I can and show Brian [coach Brian McDermott] and everyone what I can do while I am in the side.”
Leeds are set to meet Saints at least twice more this year, in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final at Warrington on Friday, July 31 and in the Super-8s.
Handley said: “The semi-final is going to be a completely different game.
“Everybody knows the Challenge Cup is completely different from Super League and they will be a completely different side.
“I am really looking forward to that, if I am still in the team.”