TEENAGE WINGER Ash Handley has already played twice as many games as he expected for Leeds Rhinos this year.
Tomorrow’s visit of Hull KR will be Handley’s 11th successive appearance in the first team, after Tom Briscoe was ruled out for three months following shoulder surgery.
The 19-year-old scored five tries in last year’s Boxing Day win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, but admitted he didn’t envisage playing more than a handful of games in 2015.
“I didn’t expect it, so I’m really happy,” said Handley, who is a product of the Oulton Raiders amateur club, where Leeds’ England winger Ryan Hall played before joining Rhinos.
“I am quite fortunate because there’s been injuries in my position, but I am happy with how it’s going.
“Hopefully I have got a few more weeks in the team. I set myself a target of getting two or three games – or a maximum of five this year.
“I knew how hard it would be to get in the team in front of Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe, who are both international wingers.
“No way did I see myself playing 10-plus games this season.”
Handley began on the right-wing, but switched flanks when Hall was sidelined by a fractured wrist.
He moved back to the right side, alongside centre Kallum Watkins, for last weekend’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth-round win over Huddersfield Giants.
Handley reckons he is learning every week, but admitted it has been tough maintaining a high standard from game to game.
“I think I went really well at the start,” he said.
“I think teams were testing me at first and I was coming up with some big plays for the team.
“I think they’re not testing me as much at the moment, because I have settled in now.
“I just want to keep going and get into the same form I was in when I first came into the team.”
Handley has a creditable six senior tries to his name, with touchdowns against Wigan Warriors, Wakefield and Salford Red Devils as well as a hat-trick in last month’s win at St Helens.
“Six is pretty good, but I have not scored for a few games now,” he said. “I am just happy to have scored a few and hopefully I can get a few more.
“This is one of the longest runs I’ve had without scoring, so hopefully I can get one this week.”
Handley accepts he is likely to drop back into the academy when Briscoe returns to fitness in around five weeks’ time.
“I’ve got to expect, when an international winger as good as Tom is, comes back I will go into the under-19s,” he said. “I just have to play as well as I can, whether it’s for the 19s or the first team.
“With Ryan and Tom at the club it is going to be hard for me to get into the team, but I am just going to have to try my best and play as well as I can and then it’s up to Brian (coach Brian McDermott).”