teenage winger Ash Handley is living a dream after a remarkable start to his Leeds Rhinos career.
Handley made one appearance last season – in an infamous Super League defeat at London Broncos – and was recalled to the side last month when Tom Briscoe suffered a long-term shoulder injury.
Rhinos have won all six of their matches since then and Handley has bagged an average of a try per game, crossing once against Wigan Warriors and then in each of the last three fixtures, with singles against Wakefield and Salford and a hat-trick in last Friday’s win at St Helens.
The 19-year-old scored a length of the field interception early on at Langtree Park, then got on the end of a fine run from his centre Joel Moon, before catching a pin-point cross-kick from Liam Sutcliffe on the final play of the opening period.
“I didn’t expect a first-half hat-trick, so I’ll probably remember it for a long time,” Handley said.
“I was happy with all of them. For the one at the end, I saw Sutty, he looked up at me and I was waving my hands at him, he booted it over and I got there and put it down, so that was good.
“It is a boost to my confidence, but it’s not just all about scoring. Some of the stuff I do in D [defence] and some big catches for the team are just as good as scoring. It is good for the confidence, but it’s not just the tries, it’s the performance itself that makes you push on.”
Handley has been involved in some big games, facing Wigan, Catalans, Castleford and defending champions Saints, who all finished in last season’s top-seven.
Of his 100 per cent winning record in the team this year, Handley said: “Hopefully we can keep it up and carry on the way we are.
“I think I am learning from every game I play.
“I’ve been playing with different players – I’ve had Kallum Watkins as my centre, Abbo (Carl Ablett) and Joel Moon and I am learning off them all.”
Handley played his first five games this term on the right wing, but was switched to the left – natural haunt of the currently injured Ryan Hall – at Langtree Park.
“For the academy I do play left-wing,” he said. “It was the first game I’ve played there for the first team and it felt a bit weird going back there, but I don’t think it really makes much of a difference.”
Handley could have another two months in the side before Briscoe has recovered from his shoulder operation and the youngster said his aim is to keep learning and improving.
“I want to keep having good, steady games,” he stated. “I just love being involved in the full team, it’s a good feeling – everyone makes you feel welcome, they are all behind me, helping me, so I’m loving it at the moment.
“On Friday I was thinking ‘I’m playing in front of all these people and a few years back I was playing amateur rugby at Oulton’. It’s a great feeling.”
Handley has had a big year since scoring five tries in the 2014 Boxing Day game against Wakefield Wildcats.
“It has been a big turnaround for me, from last year – where I ended up – to now,” he reflected.
“The end of last year wasn’t too good for me, but I got myself back in shape over pre-season and it has all fallen into place.
“I am loving it at the moment and the team’s going really well. We’ve lost one game out of 11 and we’re preparing each week as best week can to take on whatever’s in front of us. There’s more tough games coming up, but we are just taking it one game at a time at the moment and going from there.”