Charting the rise – and rise – of Leeds Rhinos’ in-form winger Ash Handley

Aaron Bower
Ash Handley Leeds Rhinos Alamy

There was a tweet which emerged on social media this week from the excellent Leeds Rhinos fan account, Stat Man Rhys, suggesting that if Ash Handley maintained his current form throughout 2024, he would finish with 47 tries.

Granted, even the most optimistic Leeds supporter would accept Handley is unlikely to continue in this rich vein of form for the entire season. But the numbers after the opening four rounds of the season make for impressive reading:

Handley has been one of, if not the, standout winger in a competition littered with elite talent in that position. Tommy Makinson, Liam Marshall, Tom Johnstone, Ryan Hall.. the list is almost endless when it comes to a discussion about the best winger in Super League and anyone who knows Rohan Smith at all will know he wasn’t too interested in being drawn into comparisons earlier this week.

However, the development of Handley is just as significant off the field, as well as on it – which Smith believes has helped tied into his new-found scintillating form.

“I think he’s been a really strong contributor around the dressing room and the training facility in pre-season,” Smith told Love Rugby League this week.

“He’s helped support Cameron (Smith) in his role (as captain) and both those guys have really gone out their way to welcome and introduce the new players into our group.

“They’ve played a huge role in some early-season and pre-season cohesion and continuity. He’s had a big impact all around the club with his interactions. The way he goes about dealing with sponsors, people in the admin building.. he’s really grown and extended himself out to the whole Leeds family.”

LEEDS ANALYSIS: How Leeds Rhinos have revamped their attack to create an eye-catching style

Morphing into a senior player both on and off the field has been instrumental in Handley’s development. Now a key figure of the leadership group at the Rhinos, the 28-year-old has been rewarded with seven tries in his first four games this year.

The manner of at least three of those tries have been exceptional – with all three almost certainly in the running for try of the season already. The fact they were all scored in different manners underlined how Handley’s all-round game is flourishing; whether it’s instinctive finishes in the corner or long-range solo efforts, he has matured into a brilliant finisher.

Always seen as a consistent winger, Handley is now adding a sprinkle of stardust to his game.

“He’s been a very solid contributor in my time at the club,” Smith says. “Certainly this year he’s taken his game to another level with his application and diligence to strive and be better.

“He’s set himself up for a good start to the season but as we’ve been talking about, it’s about getting back to the bottom and starting again. He’s got that mentality to do that each week which I’m enjoying – he’s striving to get better each week, and he’s not reading his own press.”

But inevitably, Smith had to be asked the question: where does Handley rank among the game’s lengthly list of superb wingers?

“Ash is certainly playing really well – I don’t spend any time comparing him though,” he smiles.

“We’re fortunate having him signed up for a few more years yet, it’s our job to help him get better and better, and that’s where my attention goes. There’s some really good wingers in Super League at the moment and he’s one of them.”

MORE RHINOS NEWS: Rohan Smith offers Leeds Rhinos recruitment update after Derrell Olpherts exit