Star winger could go full-back to the future says Leeds Rhinos boss

Richard Agar. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Richard Agar. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Richard Agar. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Player of the year Ash Handley’s long-term Leeds Rhinos future may be at centre or full-back, coach Richard Agar says.

Handley scored 22 tries in 28 appearances and won the club’s player of the year award after after succeeding club legend Ryan Hall in Rhinos’ number five jersey ahead of the 2019 campaign,

But Handley produced some impressive performances at centre in 2018 and Agar confirmed the 23-year-old has spoken to him about not being regarded as simply an out-and-out wing man.

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“He certainly could have the potential, longer-term, to play centre or even full-back,” Agar said. “We’ve lost Ashton Golding who was a terrific back-up to Wakka [full-back Jack Walker] last year - and Tui [Lolohea] played there a bit as well. We are a little bit lighter there and I would certainly consider him as a guy who could comfortably step into that role if he had to.”

Ash Handley training with Great Britain. Picture by Allan McKenzie SWpix.comAsh Handley training with Great Britain. Picture by Allan McKenzie
Ash Handley training with Great Britain. Picture by Allan McKenzie

Handley was due to begin pre-season training with Rhinos yesterday. Instead, he is in Brisbane with Great Britain Lions preparing for Saturday’s final game of their four-match southern hemisphere tour, against Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby.

Handley was in the Great Britain performance squad and played for England in last month’s World Cup Nines, but was not selected for the original Lions tour party. He was called up last week after a run of injuries in the outside-backs and Agar reckons, whether or not he plays this week, he will benefit from the experience.

“From a purely selfish point of view it would be good to have him [at training], but for the kid it is rewarding his good season and it’s great for the club,” Agar said.

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“He has come through our pathway and it has certainly been a journey; he was in and out of the team and he has played a number of positions, but over the last couple of seasons he has very much grown into a wonderful first-grader.

“He had his best season to date, in terms of his tries and his involvements for the team, culminating in being player of the year. Ash has got some aspirations to play more than one position and we think he has got the talent and the skill to do that. It is something we will look at moving forward, but we think the quickest route into the Great Britain team for him is the left-wing, or as a winger.”

St Helens’ Tommy Markinson missed the tour due to an injury sustained in the Betfred Super League Grand Final and Hall - one of only two specialist wingers in the tour squad, alongside Jermaine McGillvary - has been sidelined by a dislocated knee.

Agar said: “Hally is reaching the latter stages of his career and Ash was absolutely the form left-winger in the competition all season. When they took six half-backs on tour and were really skinny on outside-backs, he might consider himself unlucky to have missed the original selection.

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“But he gave a good account of himself in the Nines and I am pleased and over the moon for him. He deserves it, he is a great kid and I can only see it being a real positive for him.

“We are more than happy to sacrifice a couple of weeks with him in pre-season for him to have this experience. We’re not overly worried about the condition he is going to come back in - I think he’ll come back energised, with the bit between his teeth, knowing he has made that jump.”