Leeds Rhinos kick-off 2022: Why Wold Cup is an extra incentive for Ash Handley

THESE ARE “exciting times” not only for Leeds Rhinos, but also the Betfred Super League competition, according to winger and vice-captain Ash Handley.

By Peter Smith
Friday, 11th February 2022, 12:30 pm

THESE ARE “exciting times” not only for Leeds Rhinos, but also the Betfred Super League competition, according to winger and vice-captain Ash Handley.

Rhinos’ round-one clash with Warrington Wolves on Saturday will make history as the first Super League game shown live on free-to-air television.

Leeds-based Channel 4’s involvement is a huge boost to the sport in a year set to culminate in the delayed 2021 World Cup, when all matches in the three competitions will be broadcast over various BBC platforms. Handley is among a host of players hoping to be involved in this autumn’s festival of rugby and reckons the prospect will drive up standards across the board during the league campaign.

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Leeds Rhinos winger and vice-captain, Ash Handley.

Having made his England debut last year, the 25-year-old is a leading contender for a place in coach Shaun Wane’s squad, but insisted: “I think a lot of people are in the frame.”

Handley said: “People who might have missed out last year have got another year’s experience under their belt.

“People who might be coming to the end are fancying their chance as well, so there’s a lot of people probably fancying it at the end of the year.

“It is an extra incentive for everyone through the year and I think it is going to be a good year.

Leeds Rhinos winger and vice-captain Ash Handley is targeting a World Cup call. Picture: Matthew Merrick Photography.

“The Channel 4 coverage as well is going to help the sport and the competition, so it’s exciting times.”

Handley, though, insists club has to come before country.

“You can’t get in an England team without doing well at your club,” he said. “There’s no point looking that far in front; whatever will be, will be.

“You can control what you’re doing in the week and on the pitch on a weekend.

“Being consistent at club level will, hopefully, give you a chance to play in the World Cup so you can’t look too far forward.

“If you do, you forget about what’s going to get you there in the first place.

“I think you need to break it down, really, into week by week and that will take care of itself.”

Handley scored seven tries in 18 appearances last term and none of Rhinos’ backs reached double figures but, with Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer calling the shots, he expects 2022 to be different.

“Last year was frustrating,” he admitted.

“I don’t think you realise how beneficial a good half-back partnership is, for a winger especially.

“I didn’t really see much good ball so I am excited for this year. I had a few chances in the [pre-season] game against Hull, which was great and I am looking forward to it. Seze and Blake have brought a lot to us, they’ve played together in the past and have gelled really well. It has not taken them long to get used to each other and I am really looking forward to seeing how they go.”

Rhinos picked up some niggles during their pre-season campaign, with Tom Holroyd (ankle) and Sam Walters (shoulder) both set to miss the start of the season and Harry Newman (hamstring) a doubt to face Warrington.

But other than those three, they have a fit squad and Handley is upbeat about what might be to come over the next eight months.

He insisted: “We’re looking good, we are in a better position than we were this time last year.

“We’ve got a fit and healthy squad, so we’re looking forward to it.

“We’ve had a good build-up in pre-season; we started slow, but we’ve gradually built it up and everyone’s fresh and fit to go.”