Their is plenty of narratives spinning around the Rhinos as they enter an unlikely 11th Grand Final this weekend.
The story of their dramatic turnaround from being 11th in April to playing in a Grand Final five months later after the arrival of Rohan Smith at Headingley.
There us of course the fact the Rhinos are looking to win a third Grand Final from fifth whilst also striving to stop St Helens from toppling the record they themselves set with three consecutive titles from 2007 to 2009.
But one story that has taken centre stage since their win over Wigan has been the players who won’t work out at Old Trafford come 6pm on Saturday night.
Leeds lost Aidan Sezer to a head knock against the Warriors and are set to be without Morgan Gannon, Harry Newman and David Fusitu’a all of whom will be devastated by missing out on the Grand Final, but it might be the worst for Ash Handley.
If there’s a Leeds player who deserves a Grand Final moment it is perhaps Ash Handley. He’s in his ninth season with the club and has been outstanding over the last few years being a key figure in dragging the Rhinos away from struggles in 2018 and 2019 and headed back in the right direction.
What makes Handley deserve his Grand Final moment even more is the fact he has been a part of two Leeds squads to win the Super League title but didn’t get to play in either decider.
In 2015, Handley had his breakout season scoring tries for fun in Tom Briscoe’s absence but as Briscoe returned Handley unsurprisingly missed out on the big games at the end of the year after being a key figure throughout the season.
Meanwhile in 2017, Handley was older but had yet to force his way into Leeds’ strongest side again missing out. Now an established first team star, this was his Old Trafford moment but injury has seen it stolen from him.
The aforementioned Briscoe certainly feels for Handley having watched Handley develop since his debut in 2014 with the two being intertwined by injury in 2015 and the Rhinos’ treble winning side.
“Yeah it’s devastating,” Briscoe said, “Over the years you see many players deserve to be in the team but don’t make it for whatever reasons, but for Ash to have given to the club what he has done over the last couple of years week in week out, to be one of the best players and to miss out, I’m sure it’s devastating.”
He is backing Handley to get his moment in the years to come however: “He’s young and a great player at a great team, I’m sure there will plenty of more occasions to come.”
Leeds’ season has been defined by injuries in 2022 with Briscoe himself overcoming an injury to be ready to play his final game for Leeds at Old Trafford: “At times I thought there’d be a chance that I wouldn’t play for Leeds again. The injury was prolonged and things weren’t recovering at the pace that I wanted to see and to see the guys playing so well and going on the run that they went on, things start going through your mind.
“You just stick to it as a player, I’ve been injured before I know the process and yeah you’ve got to stick with your rehab and believe that you’ll get there and thankfully I have and I have an opportunity on Saturday.”