LEGENDS OF rugby league have fired Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s enthusiasm ahead of Leeds Rhinos’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final this afternoon.
Jones-Buchanan has suffered some “dark” days in the competition, as a four-time beaten finalist, but insisted his desire to set the record straight is as strong as ever.
Rhinos take on Warrington Wolves at St Helens’ Langtree Park this afternoon, with an appearance at Wembley in 14 days’ time on offer for the winners.
And Jones-Buchanan said talking to past champions has made him realise how much it would mean to return to the final – and lift the trophy this time.
“The last couple of weeks I have had chance to speak to a few legends of the game, Alex Murphy, Big Jim Mills and Roy Dickinson, ” he said.
“I’ve spoken to them about their experiences of the Challenge Cup and 30, 40 or 50 years down the line it is still high in their memories of their lifetime.
“Challenge Cup weekends and finals have all been pretty dismal and dark experiences for us, but I am absolutely aware of how special it can be and how big the prize on offer is.
“It is a special opportunity. I went down as a complete neutral last year to watch Hull and Wigan and I experienced as a supporter how special it is.
“That made me appreciate more what it is for a player as well. I want to get back there this year and create some special memories.”
Rhinos are on the back of a 20-12 home loss to Bradford Bulls and the England forward admitted they will need a massive improvement.
“We didn’t give ourselves any opportunity at all,” he said of the setback eight days ago.
“It reminds me of the Commonwealth Games and the four by 100 metres relay.
“When you run a relay every athlete as to do their best in their role, but they also have to keep hold of that baton.
“If one runner drops the baton, then nobody has a chance. We just kept dropping the baton last week and nobody in the team had an opportunity to be all they can be – myself included.
“We all need to be a lot better than we were, but that’s league form. It is a different competition and we have got a lot of different personnel back for this game.
“Whether we won by 60 points or lost by six, last week’s game would have been irrelevant this week. It is a massive game and we have been preparing for a semi-final.”
Warrington are aiming to reach fourth Challenge Cup final in six seasons.
“They have had their ups and downs this year, but when you go into a semi-final, as far as league form is concerned, all bets are off,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“They have shown this year that they are still a phenomenal side, with great ability and a great coach, who are used to winning Challenge Cups.
“They have been a tough side in both competitions for the last few years, they have got some quality players and they’re not scared to offload.
“I think one of the key ingredients for Warrington is their energy and enthusiasm. What they are missing in experience they’ve certainly replaced with enthusiasm.
“We know Tony Smith is one of those coaches who advocates any skill, as long as they are practicing it.
“They have got a lot of skill right throughout their squad, they are good at playing to structure and they are also good at playing off-the-cuff as well.
“We know they will be very, very good.
“We are expecting a massive game – they will be nine or 10 out of 10 and we will have to match that.”
Meanwhile, Josh Walters – who is in Rhinos’ semi-final squad – played for the under-19s in their 40-24 defeat at Hull two days ago.
Brad England scored a brace of tries, Rob Mulhern and Elliot Minchella also crossed and Jordan Lilley kicked four goals.
Luke Briscoe, who was among Rhinos’ try scorers against Bradford last week, has joined Hunslet Hawks on loan until the end of the season.