THEY MAY be on a seemingly unstoppable march to the Betfred Super League leaders’ shield, but St Helens will be nervous at the sight of at least one of Leeds Rhinos’ injury-hit side at Emerald Headingley tonight.
Ash Handley has a remarkable scoring record against the league leaders, with 10 tries in six games including home and away hat-tricks in 2015.
He touched down in both league meetings with them the following year and bagged a brace when Rhinos won 28-20 at Totally Wicked Stadium in March.
Handley would love to continue that hot streak tonight, but with Leeds struggling in the wrong half of the table admits he would swap personal tries for team points.
“I think it’s quite lucky I’ve come up with a few tries against Saints,” said the 22-year-old.
“Hopefully I can carry that on this week and we can get some tries and get the win, most importantly.”
We are just going to have to go at Saints with what we’ve got and believe we can win.Ash Handley
Leeds are on a three-game successful run against Saints, including the shock away victory one day short of three months ago, but will go into tonight’s game as huge underdogs.
Rhinos have won only three of 11 league games since they ended Saints’ uneaten start to the season, have lost their last four and are 15 points behind the leaders on the table.
They also have a lengthy injury list, with three players ruled out from the team which lost to Huddersfield Giants last Friday.
Handley admitted: “It is tough times. We seem to have some bodies come back, but then others go down. We just have to go out there and know we can do a job, whoever’s in the team.
“Every year there’s always injuries and adversity we have to deal with.
“Just because it’s happening now doesn’t mean we can’t still put performances on.
“We are just going to have to go at Saints with what we’ve got and believe we can win.”
The victory at Totally Wicked Stadium came in similar circumstances and will give Rhinos confidence they can upset the odds again.
Handley recalled: “We had some injuries then as well, though probably not as many as we do now.
“We went there and did a job on them. Hopefully we can go with the same attitude and put a show on at Headingley.”
Saints have been Super League’s outstanding team this year, winning 15 of their 17 games and boasting the competition’s best attack and tightest defence.
“They’ve obviously been very good,” Handley said. “They’ve had some big wins and they’ve got a strong side.
“They don’t seem to be picking up any injuries along the way. They are getting lucky with that side of things, I suppose, but we’ve got a good side and we’ll just focus on what we can do and hopefully we can go a good job and get the win.”
Rhinos have dropped to seventh in Super League, just two points ahead of eighth-placed Huddersfield Giants and a further one clear of Catalans Dragons, who began the round in ninth.
Those two sides meet at John Smith’s Stadium tonight and Catalans will then stay in England to prepare for their rearranged game at Headingley on Wednesday.
Leeds are in danger of being dragged into the bottom four – and the Qualifiers after the competition splits – and Handley admitted they desperately need to start picking up points.
“We need to put some wins together and get back into a bit of form,” he stated.
“Hopefully we can get a few wins on the bounce and then we can start to push and scare other teams a little bit.
“We are just focusing on ourselves and controlling what we can control.”
Handley has scored 10 tries in 16 games this season and signed a new contract last week.
“I am really pleased to be here for another three years,” he said.
“Hopefully I can keep improving. It is one of the best places to be at to do that. I’m looking forward to the next three years and seeing where I go from there.”
Though previously a specialist winger, he has been at centre for all but one of his appearances in 2018.
“I am enjoying being a centre and playing there,” he said. “I don’t mind anywhere, but I like the role at centre and I am happy to stay there.
“There’s different aspects to the game you have to take into account, it is quite different, but not too much changes and I just adapt when I have to.”