WITH HIS contract due to expire at the end of next season, Leeds Rhinos winger Ash Handley admits 2018 is an “important year for me”.
The 21-year-old has scored 25 tries in 54 appearances since making his Rhinos debut in 2015.
But he played only 12 times - three of those off the bench - last term and is aiming for “more game time” in the forthcoming campaign.
Handley, who touched down seven times in 2017, has England ace Ryan Hall and former international Tom Briscoe - a two-try scorer in Leeds’ Grand Final win over Castleford Tigers - ahead of him in the pecking order, but is keen to earn a new deal.
“I want to make a big impression and I’ll see what happens and where I go,” Handley said of the coming campaign.
“Hopefully I can impress enough to stay at Leeds, but if not I’ll try somewhere new.
“It’s the start of the year and I don’t know what’s going to happen as of yet so I will keep my head down, keep working hard and see how I go.”
He added: “I just want to get myself out there and hopefully get a bit of consistency in games, wherever that might be.
“I want to be playing at a good level and getting a few good performances and then I’ll see where I go from there.”
Reflecting on last season, Handley - who also had a spell with Leeds’ partner club Featherstone Rovers - said: “Obviously you want to play a lot more.
I want to be playing at a good level and getting a few good performances and then I’ll see where I go from there.Leeds Rhinos’ Ash Handley
“I played 12 for Leeds and a few for Featherstone at the start of the year. It was a bit disappointing, but it’s just how it is.
“There’s a lot of competition for a shirt and I picked up an injury on my calf and then struggled to get back in. It was disappointing towards the back end, but new year, new start and hopefully it’s a different story next year.”
Handley described the start of pre-season as “tough”. He said: “We’ve blown a few cobwebs off. We’ve been a bit scrappy in terms of skill, but that’s to be expected after being off for six weeks. It has been a good break, but I am glad to get back into it and to get into a routine.”
Rhinos begin their pre-season fixtures away to Wakefield Trinity on Boxing Day. With Hall unavailable following World Cup duty Handley is likely to get an early chance to impress.
“We’ve got five weeks [of pre-season] before Christmas and then about a month after it,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting in shape and back fit ready to play at the start of the year.”
Rhinos’ preparations have moved up a gear this week with Grand Final winners Briscoe, Liam Sutcliffe and Carl Ablett beginning pre-season, along with Jimmy Keinhorst. Keith Galloway (Achilles) and Brett Delaney (hamstring) are doing re-hab’ as they continue their recovery from injury.
Meanwhile, new signing Nathaniel Peteru is expected to link up with Rhinos next month. The former Gold Coast Titans forward’s paperwork has been completed and Rhinos are awaiting confirmation of his arrival date.