Jamie Jones-Buchanan excited by the next generation of Leeds Rhinos players
Assistant-coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan can see parallels between Leeds Rhinos’ golden generation and youngsters now emerging into the team – but insists the latest batch of kids will do things their way.
Jones-Buchanan made his Rhinos debut in 1999 and hung up his boots 20 years later having played in seven Grand Final wins and Leeds’ 2014 Challenge Cup triumph.
He established himself in the team at a time when Leeds’ youth system was laying down the foundations for two decades of unprecedented success as the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and others began to make their presence felt in Super League.
That followed a long barren spell for the club and Rhinos are again in a rebuilding period, which has the club’s academy at its heart.
Leeds’ 17 against Wigan Warriors last Thursday, featured eight players aged 22 or younger, with a 17-, 18- and 19-year-old on the bench.
“I think there’s some amazing talent coming through and you are seeing the fruits of it already,” Jones-Buchanan said.
Cameron Smith, 22, Mikolaj Oledzki, 22, 21-year-olds Jack Walker and Harry Newman and Ash Handley, 25, are now all established Super League players.
Jones-Buchanan recalled: “I am really close to Cam Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki, I remember when they were kids coming through the system.
“I first met Cam when he was about 14 and he was deemed as being the next prodigy and there’s nothing more gratifying when you’ve represented a club for 23 years, like I have, than seeing that next generation of kids coming through and hopefully fulfilling their potential.
“I very much hope they get the opportunity to see what I’ve seen, but at the same time, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is you can’t lift the philosophies, ideas and rituals off one group and just place them on another.
“They are very much their own people and they’ve got to create their own environment and drive their own journey.
“Certainly from what I’ve seen of their progression, it seems they have got all the potential and they are taking big steps.
“When a group of men come through together in rugby league teams, suffer a bit of adversity and look after one another, there’s no limits to where they can go. In that regard, there will be some parallels, but it will be different to what my generation had.”
Behind those players are an even younger group, with just as much potential, Jones-Buchanan reckons.
“Their biggest strength is they’ve been thrown in the deep end,” he stated.
“It’s not the ideal way to blood youngsters – you want to bring them into a confident team that’s playing well and full of fit bodies and give them a go one at a time.
“But because of injuries they’ve been thrown in that deep end and had to do big minutes, with a lot of inexperienced players around them and from what I’ve seen they’ve grown in size, stature, confidence, belief in themselves and they’ve had some really positive moments which suggest they have a lot of potential.”
Jones-Buchanan said he has been impressed by Sam Walters’ and Jarrod O’Connor’s “aggression and the way they like to put their bodies around”.
He added: “Jack Broadbent, it is a specialist position with a big responsibility on full-back.
“He has learned quickly, but the beauty of Jack is he has such humility and such a good work ethic he is able to listen to other professionals and assimilate that wisdom.
“I am excited for him.”
He also has very high hopes for 17 year olds Morgan Gannon – who has played in Rhinos’ past two games – and Levi Edwards.
“If there’s one individual who could be special, like an Adrian Morley special, it’s Morgan,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“What he does at his age and stature is unbelievable, he is far ahead of where he should be as a 17-year-old kid.
“He has played a couple of Super League games now, coming off the back of playing for Siddal under-16s and the way he’s done it has been phenomenal.”
He added: “Young Levi has still got a bit of growing to do, but in terms of an athlete, he reminds me of Ellery [Hanley].
“There’s no badge or sticker been wrapped round him that says ‘this is what position you are’ – he is an holistic rugby player with a vast array of attributes.
“He is really exciting; it will be interesting to see how the modern game accommodates him, but I have high hopes.”
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