Saturday’s fixture at Catalans Dragons is as much a mission as it is a match, according to Leeds Rhinos’ veteran forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
Rhinos will travel to and from the south of France on the day as they bid for a fourth successive away win over the Perpignan-based outfit.
Jones-Buchanan admitted the long journey always makes it one of the toughest games of the year and he reckons, with Easter coming up, the next few First Utility Super League rounds could determine the shape of Rhinos’ season.
“The Catalans game in itself is a mission, with all the travel involved,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“It has been a banana skin in the past, but it isn’t any more because they are a very good side.
“We have got to prepare really well this week.
“The saving grace is it’s an eight-day turnaround, which is brilliant.
“But off the back of that we are heading towards the Easter period and that’s when your mettle really gets tested.
“Some teams moan and some teams get on with it.
“We all love it and we’re looking forward to coming through it with some points on the board.”
Despite winning five of their six games so far, Jones-Buchanan admitted Rhinos have yet to put in a full 80-minute performance.
“The fundamentals, what we worked on in pre-season, are really paying off for us,” he said.
“We have had some really stand-out individuals.
“For me, Adam Cuthbertson has been outstanding.
“He is like somebody who can see into the future – he seems to pop up where the holes are with very little effort.
“We are starting to follow him, because the other forwards are getting some tries off him – which is great.
“But I don’t think any team in the league is where they want to be or anywhere near where they will need to be towards the back end of the season.
“The good thing is we are still getting the two points and we will work hard to get there.”
Last Friday’s 26-14 win over Wigan Warriors tightened Rhinos’ grip on second spot in the table and Jones-Buchanan said victories against that particular team are always a confidence-booster.
“Across my career I look back and some of my best memories have been playing against Wigan,” Jones-Buchanan said. “I love the games and it’s always massive for both clubs.
“We came up trumps and got the win, which is great, particularly after the week before when we got beaten by a better side on the night. It’s all about getting the two points at this stage in the season and the lads are coming on really well.”
Wigan took an early 8-0 lead, but Rhinos rallied with 16 unanswered points before the visitors scored their final converted try just before the break.
Jones-Buchanan said the ability to turn things around like that is one of Rhinos’ strengths.
“We’ve got a group of lads who can turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead in the space of 10-15 minutes,” he reflected.
“We are a great attacking team and our defence isn’t far off, so positive stuff.”
Wigan were the third team this season not to score in the second half against Leeds and Jones-Buchanan added: “That was a very big positive.
“Second halves have probably been the highlight of our season so far. We still need to build first halves a little bit better, but I think every team that comes to Headingley and plays Leeds plays like their lives depend on it. It is a tough game every week, but that just conditions us and makes us stronger as the season goes on.”