Leeds Rhinos: Adversity will make us stronger says JJB

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

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IT WAS an oft-used quote from Kevin Sinfield and it is still driving Leeds Rhinos’ Jamie Jones-Buchanan on now – adversity brings blessing.

The ex-England second-row, like the rest of his Headingley colleagues, is doing it tough at the moment.

Defending champions Leeds are rooted to the foot of Super League, a strange, strange place for a club so used to winning trophies, and have managed just three wins all year.

Clearly, they have missed their former talisman Sinfield, who switched codes after October’s Grand Final win over Wigan Warriors, tonight’s opponents at Magic Weekend.

But as Jones-Buchanan, who missed much of last season through injury, admits, he is still having some influence.

Asked how he is coping in Leeds’ current rut, the 34-year-old said: “I’m good. I’m a big believer in adversity brings blessing. It was one of Kev’s favourite quotes – he’s a good mate of mine and I still speak to him almost every day.

“He sent it to me last week and it’s funny as it feels like, from a rugby perspective, I’ve been bouncing off this idea since the 31st of July 2015.

“Obviously I was out injured on the side of the pitch watching them play really well and doing really well and then I got back on the pitch and it all seems to have flipped on its head.

“But that’s life. The thing that really matter to me – the family, the real blessings at home – are all thriving and in great nick.

“Sport, the game, is one of the foundations, the vehicle, in which I’ve lived my life and when going through these tough times it is very tough.

“For me, I think what’s really important to understand is, that whilst the team’s not doing great on the field the club in general is still thriving.

“It’s fantastic. All the right things are in the right places and what we’ve got to do is just find the answers from within, keep working hard and it will come.”

Jones-Buchanan, of course, made just 11 appearances in their treble-winning campaign last season, the ruptured quad tendon suffered in that Challenge Cup win over St Helens at the end of July eventually curtailing his season.

The six-time Grand Final winner returned in March, co-incidentally in the 28-6 loss at Wigan, but has savoured just two wins in his 11 games so far this season as Leeds’ much-publicised travails continue.

However, facing the Warriors in Newcastle this evening – such gritty, determined, forceful opponents – is just the sort of proposition he relishes.

“The best thing about Wigan is that, when you play amateur games, as I did for Stanningley, against Wigan St Judes, or Wigan St Pats or an Ince Rose Bridge, those Wigan teams are bred on rugby league,” explained Jones-Buchanan.

“It’s almost like Liverpool at soccer. So, right from being a young age – nine or ten years old – you understand that rugby league is in the Wigan blood. The fierce rivalries then build over years so when you get to the professional level you know Wigan are one of the most prestigious clubs in rugby league with a fantastic history and when you play them in a big occasion like this it is that extra bit special.

“I do get excited about playing Wigan – I think most teams do – and I’m looking forward to this week.” However, just as the tables have turned for Leeds compared to last season, so has their Magic Weekend form in recent years.

Once they were the only unbeaten team having defeated Bradford Bulls (four times), Catalans Dragons and Wakefield Trinity Wildcats from the inaugural 2007 event to 2012.

But in the three seasons since, Leeds have instead met Wigan and lost every time.

“They’ve been really, really good and we’ve had some epic battles with them at Magic Weekend,” continued Jones-Buchanan.

“There’s been some last-minute type tries and that sort of thing is what you want at a festival like this; you want to see some great games.

“It’s a massive challenge and it is again this week.

“We’ve obviously not been in the best of form and had a lot of things to deal with while Wigan are a great team, very tough and these type of occasions are where they show up and play very well.

“This week we have to be very, very good – the best we’ve been this year – but I’m a firm believer if you perform well at 7 o’clock on Saturday night you have to perform well at 7 o’clock on a Monday morning. It’s all about the build-up for us and it’s been really good this week.”

A fan of Magic Weekend, he played on the controversial night in Cardiff at the first event when Leeds defeated Bradford 42-38 with that infamous final play.

“There’s some good memories – Jordan Tansey was onside!” he joked. “I have some photographs at home from Magic Weekends gone past and they are some of my favourites.

“In fact, my favourite one is from 2007 when the full crew – Gaz Ellis, Kirkey (Ian Kirke) and Kev (Sinfield) are there and I think Lee Smith, too, after we’ve scored a try.

“We’re all going bananas. It was just brilliant.

“They are great occasions. I’ve just been to Butlins at Skegness for the biggest amateur kids rugby league festival in the UK – there was 5,000 kids, nearly 200 teams – and that was awesome.

“That warms you up really nicely for this Magic Weekend which is a great spectacle for the professional game.”

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