'We were awful' - Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley shocked by poor performance in big Super League loss at Hull KR
Leeds Rhinos' capitulation at Hull KR was summed up in one word by fit-again back Ash Handley: “awful”.
Handley was one of five players back in Leeds’ side after injury, along with Konrad Hurrell, Richie Myler, Bodene Thompson and King Vuniyayawa.
But while coach Richard Agar hoped their return would add some cutting edge to the effort and defensive commitment shown in the previous three games, Rhinos’ more experienced lineup went backwards in all departments.
They trailed 16-0 after 26 minutes and, despite Brad Dwyer pulling a try back before the break, Rovers were full value for their 26-6 win.
Leeds are now on a four-game losing run, their worst sequence of results since March, 2018, when Dave Furner was coach.
A knock-on in their first set established the tone and Rhinos were error-ridden throughout.
They also conceded 11 penalties and six set restarts and Handley, who played out of position at full-back, admitted it was a grim night from start to finish.
“It was awful really,” he reflected.
“We didn’t turn up, we talked about how they get a good start on teams and they did exactly that on us.
“I thought we were all over the place, if I’m honest.
“You can’t give anyone a leg up like that in our league, no matter who they are.
“We didn’t help ourselves in that situation.”
Handley couldn’t put his finger on what caused Rhinos’ form slump after encouraging recent performances, with a below-strength team, against last year’s Grand Finalists St Helens and Wigan Warriors.
“I’m not sure,” he conceded.
“I thought the boys played well in the last couple of weeks, they’ve gone up against two of the best sides and dug in for each other and I thought us boys coming back in would add the little finishing touches and do a bit more in attack.
“But we didn’t even do the little things and we just crumbled straight from the start.”
Handley got through the 80 minutes in his comeback from a medial knee ligament injury sustained against this weekend’s opponents Huddersfield Giants in a pre-season game a month ago.
Top try scorer in Betfred Super League last year, he is one of a host of players to have missed matches so far this year because of injury.
While they are starting to return, Cameron Smith (hamstring) joined the casualty list before the game in Hull and Alex Sutcliffe could be a doubt for this weekend after rolling an ankle.
Handley said: “I feel all right, I pulled up all right - I’ll be pretty sore, but I was glad to get through the game with no injuries.
“I have got to get back up to speed as well, but overall I feel pretty happy to get through. I got injured in the trial game, which is not the best, but I am glad I am back in and I can try and help the team.”
But the England squad member rated his performance three days ago as “probably not the best”.
He said: “I have got a few things I need to work on, playing in a different position.
“I want to try and help the team as best I can, I didn’t do that [on Friday], but hopefully I can put it right this week.”
The game at John Smith’s Stadium - against a Giants side who have yet to win in the league this year - is a big one for both teams.
“We’ve still got some players to come back, who we are missing,” Handley pointed out.
“We have got a long week to prepare and hopefully we can turn it around.
“Obviously there’s a lot of players playing out of position and some key players out so no doubt [a more settled team] will help us going forward, but we can’t make excuses.
“We had a good enough team out to do miles better and we just didn’t turn up.”
Support the YEP and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news and the latest on Leeds United, With a digital subscription, you see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.