ENGLAND WINGER Ryan Hall is playing catch-up after his late return to training, but has promised to build on a “rusty” return for Leeds Rhinos.
The 34-14 win over Bradford Bulls three days ago was Hall’s first proper hit-out since playing for England against New Zealand in the Four Nations on November 8, though he did feature for Leeds in their victory over USA Pioneers in Florida earlier this month.
And Hall – who was given time off following England’s tour to Australia and New Zealand – insisted he will be better for getting 80 minutes under his belt just two weeks before the season-proper begins.
“It’s always good to get the first hit-out,” said Hall. “I know a lot of the lads played on Boxing Day, but it was the first time I’d played (in a full-scale game).
“It was good to get the boots back on and get the feel of it again. It was certainly needed. I wouldn’t have wanted to go into the season without having a game like that, so it was good.
“There’s some things to work on, but I’ll get to review the video and see what was good and what was bad. That was expected – there’s nothing jumping out at me that I didn’t expect.”
Hall admitted his performance against Bradford fell short of the standards he sets for himself.
“You have to set your goals no matter when you play, whether it’s your first game back or not,” he said. “I thought I was very rusty, but that is good because it means I have got some things to put right.”
Hall and his fellow England squad members Kallum Watkins and Zak Hardaker only began pre-season training at the start of this month, but the winger is confident he is not too far behind the rest of the squad, who have been in since November.
“I played the full 80,” he said of last Sunday’s game. “I wouldn’t say I am the fittest person in the world, because I never am. Even in the season I am a few yards behind everyone else, but that’s what I am always like.
“I am feeling fairly good and I am looking forward to the season.”
For the second successive year, Rhinos begin their campaign away to Hull KR. Of the opening fixture, on Sunday, February 8, Hall said: “It is always a big game. It is a nice, open pitch and there’s a bit of running to do.”
Hall was named in the Super League Dream Team last year, when he was Rhinos’ top scorer with 23 touchdowns. That marked a return to try-scoring form after he bagged only 16 in 2013.
“It is always nice to score tries, being a winger,” Hall said. “But I have said since day one, in 2007, I am not bothered as long as the team are doing well. We have got our team goals and it’s a team sport. The team objective is the main thing.”
Meanwhile, Hall is keeping a close eye on the development of young winger Ash Handley, for several reasons.
Handley scored five tries in Leeds’ Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats to enhance his reputation as a future star.
And he is following in big footsteps after coming through the ranks at the Oulton Raiders amateur club, where Hall played before joining Leeds nine years ago.
“It is great,” Hall said. “That competition is what we want. Having Bish (Ben Jones-Bishop, who has moved to Salford Red Devils) here last year was brilliant.
“It’s hard to say that because he’s a close friend and a lot of the weeks he was missing out, but it is nice to get the competition there. Ash Handley is as enthusiastic as anything, which young lads always are.
“They bring it in abundance – and it will get you if you’re not on your game.
“You have to make sure you’re on your game every week.”
Hall added: “Ash played against London last year and scored five tries at Christmas. I don’t care what standard you play at, five tries is a great thing to do.
“He played on Sunday and got 20 minutes and that shows the coach is willing to put him in if the two wingers who are in there already aren’t pulling our weight.”