Leeds Rhinos: Career stats back JP’s special status

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Ten years on from being prised away from Bradford Bulls, Leeds Rhinos prop Jamie Peacock embarks on yet another trophy-seeking campaign, but what makes the No.10 tick? Peter Smith reports.

SINCE TAKING over at the club 19 years ago, Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington has done some smart things – but the astutest was prising Jamie Peacock away from Bradford Bulls in 2005.

Jamie Peacock

Jamie Peacock

Peacock, who will face his former club in his testimonial game on Sunday, was already a former Man of Steel. At the time he was Bradford and England captain and was in the process of leading Bulls to a Grand Final triumph, at the expense of the club he was about to join.

That was his third Super League success, to go alongside two Challenge Cup victories – both against Leeds – and a brace of World Club Challenge titles.

Peacock had done it all at domestic level, but remarkably the move to Leeds took his career to an even higher plane.

The statistics are well known, but worth repeating. At Leeds Peacock has played in and won five more Super League Grand Finals.

Last year he added a third Challenge Cup winner’s medal, 11 years after his previous success and he has featured in an additional two World Club Challenge victories.

Peacock has made 254 appearances for Leeds, been nominated for Man of Steel in each of the past two seasons and remained a regular in the Super League Dream Team.

He reached his 37th birthday last month, but Rhinos’ coaching staff say his statistics from the 2014 campaign indicate he isn’t so much slowing down as continuing to improve. Club and fans’ player of the year for the second successive season, last year Peacock was Rhinos’ top tackler (780) and made more marker tackles (181), offloads (49) and carries (519) than anybody else in the squad. Only Zak Hardaker (with 3,254) made more than Peacock’s 3,248 metres with the ball.

Not bad for a player who wasn’t marked out as a special talent when he came through the ranks at the Stanningley amateur club, which also produced his Leeds team-mate and fellow icon Jamie Jones-Buchanan and the current teenage sensation Ashton Golding.

Peacock himself would probably deny being a special talent even now. There may be players in his position who do each individual facet of the game better, but as an all-round package JP is up there as one of the very finest of his generation.

What makes Peacock special is his mental strength. He called his autobiography No White Flag and that was apt for the lifestory of a player who never takes a backwards step.

Apparently it can be frustrating playing alongside Peacock, because he always wants to take the next carry or make the next tackle, but his influence on those around him – simply put, his will to win – is inspirational.

All professional rugby league players are competitive, but Peacock hates losing. Really, really hates it and there is no doubt that he has pulled Leeds through some tough times.

A good example was a Challenge Cup tie away to Harlequins in 2008. Rhinos led 24-4 just after half-time and then the wheels fell off. The home side got in front at 26-24, but it was Peacock’s try four minutes from time which ended their revival and effectively won the game for Leeds.

Bulls finished third in the table in his final season there, after a shaky first half of the campaign. It was Peacock who dragged them through that period and they wouldn’t have won the Grand Final without him in their side.

Leeds haven’t been a one-man team over the past decade. Peacock has played alongside some of the club’s all-time greats, but he was the key piece in the jigsaw and much of their success was due to having him in the line-up.

Rhinos would have won trophies had they not signed Peacock, but it’s doubtful if the cabinet would have been so heavily ladened. And as Kevin Sinfield says in an interview in today’s Yorkshire Evening Post, had Peacock not joined Leeds he would have been playing against them – which clearly would have made life much tougher.

In a way it is a shame Peacock did not try his hand in the world’s top rugby league competition, Australia’s NRL, 10 years ago. He would have been every bit as big a hit as Adrian Morley, Gareth Ellis, James Graham and Sam Burgess, but the NRL’s loss was Rhinos’ gain. It is remarkable Rhinos have two MBEs in their current team, Sinfield and Peacock – but also fitting. The duo – the organiser and the warrior – have complemented each other perfectly. It is difficult to compare eras, but few would argue that only Lewis Jones and John Holmes could compete with Sinfield and Peacock for the title as Leeds’ greatest of all-time.

Since squad numbers were introduced in 1996, the number on the back of a player’s jersey has simply become a symbol.

If Peacock does hang up his boots, as he says he plans to do, at the end of this season, an appropriate gesture would be for the club to retire the No 10 jersey – because it is unlikely anybody will ever match the feats of its current wearer.