Table-topping Leeds Rhinos are on the verge of doing “something special” in Super League this year.
That’s the verdict of injured forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who reckons Rhinos’ improved defensive resilience has taken them to a new level.
Rhinos – who were playing host to St Helens in the Tetley’s Challenge Cup fifth round today – have won eight of their opening 10 league games, with one draw and a defeat.
They have conceded only 82 points, which is half as many as any other team in the competition apart from Wigan Warriors – who have let in 158, but have a game in hand.
Only second-placed Castleford Tigers, who have scored eight more points than Leeds’ 326, have a better attack.
“I have been at this club a long time and we’ve been in some good positions, but I think there’s something pretty unique about this year, the way the lads are defending,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“They are cleaning up for each other, scrambling and putting extra efforts in. That mentality has always been there, but I think what you are seeing now is the fruits of what Brian McDermott and the coaching staff have been putting in for the last two or three years.
“It is all coming to fruition now and we are perfecting a skill as a group and as individuals. It is a really good place to be.”
But the veteran back-rower – a six-time Grand Final winner – admitted good form now is no guarantee of picking up silverware later in the year.
He said: “To be top of the league gives us some real confidence, but there’s still a long way to go. I have been thinking about 2005 when we started off like a house on fire.
“We were putting teams to the sword and our form was unreal, but then we had a period when we lost four on the trot and we finished second in every competition – the league, Challenge Cup and the Grand Final.
“It shows you can’t get too carried away and there’s nothing won at this time of the year.
“In contrast, in 2011 and 2012 we were on the opposite side of the coin and we finished off the season really well.
“You can’t read too much into it, but it’s certainly encouraging and gives you that confidence you are on the right track.”
Jones-Buchanan is recovering from surgery to repair a damaged biceps and it likely to be sidelined until the summer.
The injury was a massive blow for the 32-year-old, who struggled with a knee problem last season.
“I am sustained by my family and faith, he said. “There’s an old saying, a problem shared is a problem halved.
“At this club I have got 150 friends who are sharing all my problems and help me and support me, in a physical way or an emotional way.
“It is a fantastic place to be and I am really fortunate to be part of this group of players and staff.
“The empathy around here and the emotional intelligence is phenomenal. Everybody has been really encouraging, so I am happy I can just crack on and do everything to get myself back right.
“God willing, in two months I will be back ready to contribute with the boys.”