LEEDS RHINOS are preparing for an epic showdown with Hull in this week’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final, veteran Jamie Jones-Buchanan says.
Leeds, winners in 2014 and 2015, will face the current holders in a Yorkshire derby at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium on Saturday.
And Jones-Buchanan reckons captain Gareth Ellis’ return from long-term injury will make Hull extra-dangerous.
“It is a semi-final of the Challenge Cup, the winners will go on to play at Wembley and I think it is going to be epic,” predicted the Leeds man.
“Gareth Ellis is an old statesman and an outstanding player.
“I packed down with him in the back-row for Leeds for a number of years and I know what he is capable of.
“He will be rallying his troops to get to the final.
“They tasted it last year, they know what it’s like to win it and I’m sure they’ll want to do it again this year.”
The 35-year old – who is aiming for a sixth Cup final appearance – added: “I went to Wembley last year and watched them win it and there’s some really good boys over there, some good friends and it was nice to see them get their reward for a great season.
“They will probably have learned from it, the way they fell away at the back end of the year.
“They will be looking to win it again and kick on from that and potentially go even further.
“I know they have got a belief they are the strongest team in the league and they’ve shown signs of that by beating Castleford in the quarter-finals.
“We had a very tough game against them the other week and the semi-final will be the same, but we believe in ourselves and we have got a good team to take them on.”
Rhinos are set to welcome back a host of star names after an under-strength side lost 34-0 at Wigan three days ago.
“It served a purpose,” Jones-Buchanan said Rhinos’ final game of the regular Betfred Super League season.
“It was chance for the young boys to come out and get a bit of experience.
“I remember going to Wigan when I was a young boy, playing against people like Andy Farrell and Kris Radlinski and now some of our young boys have played against Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins.
“[Wigan forward] Willie Isa came over afterwards and said your young boys are great and I think he sees the potential in them.”
Jones-Buchanan backed coach Brian McDermott’s decision to field a weakened team.
Asked if it was the right call, he said: “I think so. Brian thinks so and I trust him immensely.
“He is a great coach and he is always thinking three or four steps ahead. Everybody has bought into that, everybody rolled their sleeves up and I thought the boys were brave.
“They played against a good Wigan side in very tough conditions after having a short period of time to prepare as a group.
“All things considered, we’re quite happy with that.”