After a number of weeks out injured, Leeds Rhinos vice-captain and top try-scorer Ash Handley returned to the starting line-up for Saturday’s Super League Grand Final.
The England winger won his fitness race to start the showpiece event at Old Trafford, with head coach Rohan Smith revealing in the build-up that Handley had been on the training pitch in the week leading up to the final.
However, Catalans Dragons fullback Sam Tomkins was not quite convinced by Handley’s preparation for the game when speaking to Sky Sports.
Having had a similar late fitness test for last year’s final, England captain Tomkins believes his international teammate Handley would have only run for the first time in weeks when he set foot on the Old Trafford turf for the warm-up.
“Last year before the Grand Final I tore the MCL ligament in my knee,” Tomkins said. “It is quite a long-term injury but I had three weeks basically to rest and cross my fingers hoping it would heal up.
“It was the worst preparation and the toughest three weeks of my career, mentally. I didn’t do anything on the field, I was just hoping that when I got on the pitch and tried to run, that my knee was okay.
“So, I don’t believe Rohan (Smith) when he says Ash Handley had been training all week.
“He’s not trained. I think he has been in a boot all week and I think the first time he has been out of his boot is Grand Final day.
“He is Rohan’s star player, they needed him on the field, he will have been wrapped in cotton wool for the last two or three weeks and this will have been the first time he is running I reckon.”
As it turned out, the risk didn’t pay off for Leeds and Rohan Smith as Handley and his teammates went down 24-12 to St Helens.
Though Tomkins opinion was based on his analysis of the situation, it’s hard to argue given Handley’s lack of involvement in the final, with the Rhinos speedster clearly lacking some of his usual pace and intensity.
Despite injury concerns, both Handley and Tomkins are expected to be announced in Shaun Wane’s England squad for the Rugby League World Cup later this week.