ASH HANDLEY is happy to forego the Boxing Day bubble and squeak once again as he aims to help Leeds make a bigger impact in the New Year than they did in a disappointing 2023.
It’s Rohan Smith’s second full season at the Headingley helm – and the Australian knows an improvement on an eighth-place finish is badly needed.
Resilient outside back Handley is ready to pay his part in achieving that, and after enjoying a training camp in Portugal, says he and his teammates are ready to step up preparations when the Rhinos host traditional Boxing Day rivals Wakefield, with an 11.30am start.
The Leeds-born 27-year-old made a spectacular Rhinos debut in the 2014 version of the fixture, scoring five tries in a 50-28 win, and said: “This match has become part of the Christmas routine for me.
“I’m in double figures in the number of times I’ve played in it, and I’m looking forward to another, to getting out there and seeing what progress we’re making as a group.
“Portugal was enjoyable, we were working in nice weather and got quite a bit done in terms of both training and connecting with the new players.
“It’s always good to be around each other constantly in a camp and to get to know what people are like in different situations.
“We also did a bit of squad culture stuff in meetings, and it’s good to kick-start that process.”
The Trinity clash will be back row Cameron Smith’s first as stand-alone skipper after Leeds operated with a leadership group, which included Handley, last season.
And Handley added: “He’s a great lad, and he came on over the last twelve months, both on and off the field.
“He’d do anything for all of us, and the lads respect him as a great leader.
“I’ll do my bit by supporting him and trying to set an example in how I train and prepare.”