IT says something about a player when he can be joint-leading try-scorer in Super League for a side that sits just two points off bottom place.
However, prolific Ash Handley finds himself in just such an unusual position given he has scored 21 tries for Leeds Rhinos so far this term, level with Salford Red Devils’ electric full-back Niall Evalds at the top of the competition’s leaderboard.
Indeed, despite the club’s continuing battle to avoid relegation, the 23-year-old has even amassed two more tries than Golden Boot holder Tommy Makinson, the brilliant England winger currently excelling for league leaders and Wembley finalists St Helens.
Many thought Rhinos would struggle replacing Ryan Hall, the winger who hails from the same Leeds amateur club as Handley – Oulton Raiders – and bagged 231 tries in 328 appearances for the blue and amber before departing for the NRL.
But Handley has excelled and, asked if Hall has been in touch, he said: “I saw Hally when he came back earlier in the year for the World Club Challenge.
Handley – who signed a new four-year deal at Emerald Headingley earlier this month – added a brace to his tally in Thursday’s loss against St Helens and will be looking to improve that total further when Leeds resume their fight for survival at bottom-placed London Broncos on Sunday week.
“It is a good achievement for me,” said the Leeds-born player, who crossed 11 times in 22 games last term before taking the N0 5 jersey of Ryan Hall this season, the famous Rhinos and England winger now playing for Sydney Roosters.
“I’m quite happy with my own game at the minute. Some of the tries are handed to me on a plate by Konnie (Hurrell) – like you saw against Saints – and he is great for me; he attracts so many players in and sets me in space so I can just finish it off for him.
“It’s good for me but I’d rather the team win than me getting any accolades.”
Handley certainly enjoys scoring against Saints given he struck two hat-tricks against them in 2015, crossed in both meetings the following year, added a brace last term and also touched down when the sides met in February.
The blistering partnership with Hurrell, the blockbusting Tonga centre who has made such an impact since arriving as a ‘marquee’ player from Gold Coast Titans in the winter, has been one of Rhinos’ major positives in 2019.
“Obviously everyone reviews us,” said Handley. “And they will try and man-mark him (Hurrell) to get a few numbers around and try and stop him.
“But he’s a great player and he has a pass in him as well as a strong carry.”
Hurrell duly provided the final pass for both Handley’s tries against Saints and another that was ruled out.
Many thought Rhinos would struggle replacing Hall, the winger who hails from the same Leeds amateur club as Handley – Oulton Raiders – and bagged 231 tries in 328 appearances for the blue and amber before departing for the NRL.
“I saw Hally when he came back earlier in the year for the World Club Challenge,” he said. “But other than that, I’ve not seen him for a while. I know, though, he’s going really well out there and I’m pleased for him as well.”
With three games to go, Handley needs just two more tries to beat Hall’s 22 tries scored in the treble-winning season of 2015 although he has some way to go to break the 33-try record set in 2012.
Rhinos were level 10-10 at the break against Saints and threatening to record a third successive win to essentially stave off any threat of the drop.
However, they crumbled badly to lose 36-20 and, for all the good work, Handley, approaching 3,000 metres made and with 28 clean breaks in Super League’s top 10 rankings, insisted: “We are off.
“We were struggling in the first half and throwing the ball away.
“We stayed in there but we should have turned it around in the second and stopped throwing the ball away.
“We didn’t do that and they punished us for it. We thought coming in at half-time that if we cut those mistakes out, we’d have a really good chance.
“For one reason or another we didn’t do that and, instead of us being able to hold them out like we did for much of the first, we let them in for a few cheap tries.”
Handley’s development has been such that he is in the reckoning for England Knights honours at the end of this term as well as being potentially set to break Hall’s 2014 tally of 23 tries.
That said, it would take some doing to then go any further and break the 31-year-old’s own record of 33 tries in just 37 games seven years ago.
They head to London next for a pivotal encounter; Broncos are in last spot but just two points behind Rhinos who are up in eighth and clearly not out of danger.
Handley – who hopes to represent England Knights against Jamaica on his home ground of Headingley in October – said: “Hopefully this (Saints) is just a little blip and we can regroup and go again,” he continued.
“The last two performances before have been outstanding for us so, hopefully, we put this one to bed, forget about it and keep on with what we’d been doing the last few weeks.”