VETERAN FORWARD Jamie Jones-Buchanan has admitted Leeds Rhinos are in a “desperate” situation.
Rhinos are facing a seven-match fight for their Betfred Super League lives, beginning at home to Toulouse Olympique today.
Five wins should be enough to beat the drop, but with only one victory from their last 11 matches Leeds are at serious risk of being relegated for the first time in the club’s 128-year history.
The top-three after the Qualifiers will play in Super League next year, with the fourth and fifth-placed sides meeting in the Million Pound Match.
The loser of that will drop into the Championship, along with the Qualifiers’ bottom-two.
“It is desperate,” admitted Jones-Buchanan who made his debut in 1999 and is a seven-time Grand Final winner.
“We look pretty weak and fragile at the minute.
“That’s not what we need going into the middle-eights, but we’re there because of performances and some of that fragility throughout the season has brought us down to these deep levels.
“There’s a lot of it we need to fix up.
“Some of it we won’t be able to fix up this year in terms of the standards we are used to knowing at Leeds, but certainly we have got to fight for our survival and we’ll be up against some strong and spirited Championship sides.”
Rhinos came through the Qualifiers two years ago, also after finishing ninth in Super League.
“I have been fortunate to have experienced it all at Leeds and this is right there with some of the more disappointing periods of my career, but I have always said these challenges make us stronger,” Jones-Buchanan added.
“They make great stories and when you look back in years to come you learn great lessons from them.”
Leeds have not lost to a team from a lower division since 1985 when they were beaten 5-2 at Barrow in a John Player Special Trophy first round tie.
The Qualifiers began with an upset when London Broncos – who finished second in the Championship, one place above Toulouse – won at Super League’s bottom club Widnes Vikings.
Rhinos thumped Championship side Leigh Centurions 52-22 in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup two months ago, but Jones-Buchanan warned: “We can’t look at any team and underestimate them.
“If you do that you get burned.
“We’ve got two Championship sides first up – Toulouse and London – and it’s really important we get a great start and start to build a bit of confidence going into playing some Super League games.
“Toulouse have got some lads with Super League experience and they are in the middle-eights for a reason, because they deserve to be there.
“They are a good side and they’re challenging for Super League.
“Toulouse are going to come here wanting a scalp and we’ve got to get to our very best.”
Jones-Buchanan made his comeback in last Sunday’s Challenge Cup semi-final defeat by Warrington Wolves after two months on the sidelines following knee surgery.
He got through unscathed and has been named in a strong 19-man squad for today’s game. He reckons a good win in their opening Qualifiers fixture could get Rhinos back on track.
“Rugby league can change in a week,” he insisted.
“It just needs that spirited performance and that bit of confidence and that comes from scoring tries and winning games.
“That’s something we’ve not been good at in recent months, but the proof’s in the pudding.
“We’ve been working hard in training and the ultimate task is to put that into practice in the game.
“We’ve had a good week to prepare the foundations, but ultimately it comes down to performance and we need a good one [today].
“We just need to fix up some real core parts of our game at the minute.
“It’s not easy. I have played in some of the best Leeds teams and some of the worst over the last 15-20 years and it’s never easy.
“It’s not something you can fix overnight.
“This is a challenge, we are not in a very good place at the minute and we need to address it.”