ONLY Leeds Rhinos’ very best will be good enough when they take on visitors Warrington Wolves tonight.
That’s the warning from back-rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan as Rhinos prepare to face the bang-in-form Engage Super League leaders.
Warrington have already beaten Rhinos once this year and haven’t conceded a point in their last three matches – including a 112-0 demolition of part-timers Swinton Lions in the Challenge Cup a week ago.
In their last two Super League games, Wolves thrashed Bradford Bulls 58-14 and Castleford Tigers 62-0 and Jones-Buchanan admitted: “They are playing really well.
“They are red hot with the ball and they are scoring a lot of points.
“If they are starting at 100 miles per hour then that takes a lot out of the team who are trying to stop them. They are sharp on both sides of the sword – attack and defence.
“If we are going to compete against teams like Warrington we are going to have to throw as much back at them as they throw at us.
“We will have to be good with the ball and at our best in defence as well. I think it’ll have to be our best performance of the season so far.
“If you want to win titles and be in the top three, you have to pull those performances out against teams like Warrington.
“There’s not a million miles between them and us in terms of league position. We play Saints the week after and they are both four-point games.
“They are three and two points ahead of us respectively and we want to be up there competing.”
Rhinos are in their best form of the season so far and Jones-Buchanan stressed: “We haven’t been through a bad time ourselves. We have been competing and progressing, from a start we didn’t really want.
“We have won our last six and will be going out there with a bit of confidence as well.”
Victory tonight would see Rhinos emerge as contenders – if still outsiders – for the league leaders’ shield, less than two months after being jeered off the field following a heavy home defeat by Huddersfield Giants.
“People don’t understand the power of adversity,” said Jones-Buchanan. “When you go through tough times, like we did early on, it is about keeping the faith.
“We got into a hole. To get out of that – if you have got the spirit to do it – you build a foundation.
“That foundation keeps you strong. At Leeds Rhinos when we are playing well it is almost like we are 10 out of 10.
“We have had times when we have been five out of 10 and I think that has built character within us, so we know that if we go through tough times in the future – when we are sat near the top of the league – we will know how to handle it.”
Jones-Buchanan is adamant that Rhinos are in a better state, in terms of form and playing personnel, than the last time they faced Warrington, almost three months ago.
That ended 40-24 in Wolves’ favour, but Jones-Buchanan recalled: “We were a bit down when we played them last and we had a few players missing.
“But when you look at that game, after 22 minutes we were eight points up, having not been out of our half.
“There’s plenty of resilience in this team. If you don’t get up for Warrington, you never will.
“Everybody is going to come out of the changing rooms buzzing and if we can just put a few better sets together than we did the last time and we defend well, it could be a different story.
“They ran away with it in the end, but that was an accumulation of how much we had to do early on.”
Jones-Buchanan has been one of Rhinos’ top performers this term and he said: “I’m really enjoying my rugby.
“Brian and Jimmy (coach Brian McDermott and his assistant James Lowes) have given us some interesting stuff to do and I really feed off that physically.
“Spiritually as well, it has been a good year in terms of feeling refreshed.”
Rhinos are tonight without previously ever-present centre Keith Senior, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week’s cup win over Harlequins. Chris Clarkson is left out from that team.
Brent Webb (dead leg) and Danny McGuire (quad) are both included in the initial 19 following injuries sustained three weeks ago and Weller Hauraki and Jay Pitts are also vying for a recall.
Richie Myler has recovered from a fractured cheekbone and could start at stand-off for Warrington, in place of rookie Gareth O’Brien, who damaged a knee last week.
Brett Hodgson is also set to return after a back injury and could replace Chris Riley, who has joined Harlequins on loan. Mickey Higham and Paul Wood are also back in contention.
Leeds Rhinos from: Webb, Hardaker, Delaney, Smith, Hall, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Kirke, Ablett, Bailey, Lauitiiti, McShane, McGuire, Pitts, Hauraki.
Warrington Wolves from: Hodgson, J Monaghan, Bridge, Atkins, Williams, Myler, Briers, Morley, M Monaghan, Carvell, King, Westwood, Grix, Clarke, Cooper, Blythe, Solomona, Higham, Wood.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).
Kick-off: Tonight, 8pm.
● RHINOS’ academy sides face Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in a triple-header at Stanningley tomorrow.
The under-15s kick off at 11.45am, with the 16s at 1pm and the 18s at 2.30pm.