Leeds Rhinos: Handley happy to sacrifice his time off to play for England Knights

Ash Handley.
Ash Handley.
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SACRIFICING SOME time off is no problem for Leeds Rhinos back Ash Handley if it means he can hit the ground running in pre-season.

Handley’s season will officially end when England Knights face Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on Saturday, November 3, but Handley will be back in training with Rhinos less than a month later.

New coach Dave Furner will arrive next month and the winger/centre is keen to make a good first impression. Handley said: “Obviously you want to have some time off because the season’s very long. When we get back we’ll have about three weeks off so I am looking forward to a bit of down time and going away for a bit, but I’ll be back in after that and straight into it and hopefully I can impress the new coach.”

Handley has not played since suffering a shoulder injury in Rhinos’ Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Warrington Wolves on August 5.

A foot problem extended his lay-off and he knows he will have to fight hard to regain his place. England ace Kallum Watkins and new Tongan signing Konrad Hurrell will be Rhinos’ first-choice centres next year, but Ryan Hall’s departure has left a wing vacancy. Handley is likely to be competing with Luke Briscoe for that spot and said: “I am looking forward to getting fit and getting out there and having a few games and showing Kev [Sinfield] and Dave Furner what I can do and hopefully getting a chance to start the season next year.”

Handley could make his comeback when England Knights face Papua New Guinea in Lae on Saturday.

“I’m all right, I am getting through,” he said. “My foot is still a bit sore, but I am looking after it after training and I should be fine. I’ll have to see how it is in Papua New Guinea, but I am looking forward to getting out there.”

This week’s destination in the only country where rugby league is the national sport. Handley said: “It will be a real experience and we are there for quite a few days so I am looking forward to it. It is a life experience and a life challenge, more than just a rugby game. I think it’ll be good and I’ve been looking forward to Australia as well, my first time there.”

Handley was given a boost last week when he was called up to train with England ahead of the Test against France, though he did not play in the 44-6 win. For a 22-year-old, training with the full international side was an unmissable opportunity and he reflected: “It has been a great experience being around superstars of the game. It has been really good to be involved in the sessions and just to see what goes on and what you want to achieve.

“I was only in for two sessions, but it was good to see what [England coach] Wayne Bennett’s views are on the game and what he wants. It was really unexpected, I just got a call saying ‘do you want to come and train and you might have a chance of playing’? I didn’t expect it, but it is great to know you are not too far away and if you keep playing well you might have a chance of getting selected in a few years.”