VAST experience could help Leeds Rhinos to put a stranglehold on this year’s Super League play-offs, six-time Grand Final winner Jamie Jones-Buchanan says.
The defending champions kick off their post-season campaign in a qualifying play-off away to Warrington Wolves this afternoon.
Warrington finished second in the league table, one place and four points clear of Rhinos, but Leeds beat them in last season’s title decider and the semi-final two years ago.
Fifteen of Rhinos’ 19-man squad for today have won at least one Grand Final and Jones-Buchanan reckons that play-offs know-how is “massive”.
He said: “Experience goes a long way and we’ve got some lads in our team – like Kevin Sinfield and Jamie Peacock – who know how to strangle games and win the big ones.
“They are the games when you are under pressure and there’s a lot of expectation on you.
“To be able to do it takes a lot of talent, but some of the compulsive behaviours they’ve had since they were 10 or 11 years old – the things they’ve done – it is almost like they are tailor-made for times like Super League play-offs.
“I am really fortunate to have a captain and some leaders that are like that. Myself and Brett Delaney and Carl Ablett, we are like drones – we just work hard and do as we are told.
“But I think experience goes a long way when it comes to the back end of a Super League season.”
However, Jones-Buchanan warned experience and past success don’t guarantee more glory this year.
The 2013 play-offs look the tightest yet and the Leeds man said the defending champions will need to hit new heights to win a third successive title.
“With experience comes age and with age comes fatigue and wear and tear,” he cautioned. “It is a bit of a trade-off.
“We have got a lot of young lads who are spectacular and special, but we have all just got to put our best foot forward and bring to the team what we are good at.
“Brian McDermott [Rhinos’ coach] will pick the team he thinks will go on and do the job and each player – regardless of who that is – has got to bring to the side what their speciality and decent attributes are.
“We are fortunate to have a very diverse group of individuals with some special talents and quite often that makes for a brilliant performance.”
Jones-Buchanan added: “If you are going to get to Old Trafford and win a trophy and hold that trophy for 12 months you have to do your best against the best.
“Warrington are a fantastic team and there’s a few more good teams in the play-offs – don’t write anybody else off.
“Huddersfield finished top and rightly so, but I think Warrington are the favourites.
“We have just got to do our best and concentrate on what’s in front of us.
“We will put our best foot forward and we will try very hard – we would love to win the Grand Final again, but we’ve got to start with this massive challenge against Warrington.”
Today’s winners will have a bye next weekend before a home semi-final against opponents of their choosing.
The losers will play host to the highest-ranked team from the bottom half of the draw in six days’ time.
Despite having a possible second chance, Jones-Buchanan said Rhinos will be going all out to win today.
He said: “People have asked if there’s less pressure having a second bite of the cherry but we all know how important momentum is.
“I think playing an extra week and having the negative mentality of having lost a game is not good at all.
“We want to go out there and make sure we get the job done first time.”
England international Gareth Widdop made his NRL comeback yesterday in Melbourne Storm’s 20-10 qualifying play-off defeat by South Sydney.
The Halifax-born stand-off was pressed into service, 13 weeks after dislocating his hip, when Brett Finch failed to recover from a shoulder injury.
Widdop went up against former Bradford prop Sam Burgess, with whom he is hoping to line up for England in the World Cup.