MAY COULD be a month that defines Leeds Rhinos’ season, according to veteran forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
Rhinos take on Catalans Dragons in Perpignan today looking to get back on track after last week’s shock home loss to Huddersfield Giants.
They play host to Barrow Raiders in the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup a week tomorrow before a Magic Weekend showdown with Betfred Super League leaders Castleford Tigers and then two games in four days over the spring bank holiday weekend at the end of the month.
The loss to Huddersfield dragged Leeds back into a pack of clubs chasing top-four spots and Jones-Buchanan reckons that makes today a vital game and the next few weeks crucial to their hopes of silverware this season.
“It is always a mission, Catalans away, because of the travel and the weather,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“We have to bounce back and there is a little bit of pressure on us to do that.
“May is going to be an epic month – after this we’ve got the Challenge Cup and then a big Magic Weekend game against Castleford, who are on fire.
“That leads into four games in 17 days, so it’s coming thick and fast, but I don’t think we are a million miles away from form. Leeds and teams like Warrington play a style of rugby where when it’s good it’s very good and it’s very dangerous.
“But when things don’t stick and there’s not a lot of synergy, for whatever reason, on the night it looks pretty bad.
“We are not a million miles away from where we were a week or two ago when we were winning games.
“We’re not panicking. We are only a few points off the top – there’s not a lot of points separating teams and there’s only really Cas who’ve had a luminescence about them.
“They are shining, but I don’t think anybody has really hit their straps and done anything magic yet.
“This time last year we would have bitten somebody’s hand off to be where we are now and there’s a long way to go yet.”
Catalans have suffered successive defeats and began Super League round 13 in eighth place in the table and in danger of missing the cut when the competition splits into Super-8s and Qualifiers.
“I am sure they will be good,” Jones-Buchanan predicted.
“It is like a national institution, rugby league in the south of France.
“My mum has got a house down there and Catalans are her second team.
“My half-brother Jodie Broughton plays for them and he reports back.
“If they don’t win they get the guillotines out in the town square, so they will be gunning for us.
“But if we can get a win we’ll be in good shape before we play Barrow in the Cup next week.
“Brad Singleton’s very excited because he’s a Barrow boy, they are his kinsmen and he says they are bringing the whole town down, which will be quite exciting.
“And then we’ve the Magic Weekend, which is a great spectacle for players and fans.
“We’d like to go there with a big smile on our face.”
Catalans’ first defeat of the year came at Headingley two months ago, when Leeds beat them 46-10.
Singleton picked up a six-game ban afterwards for a foul on Dragons’ dangerman Greg Bird and Jones-Buchanan admitted that could spice up today’s clash.
“I hope he will be returning a few kicks from kick-offs,” he said of his front-row team-mate.
“That’s something beyond my control. I have just got a job to do and it’s very tough with the travel over there and everything that goes with it.”
This afternoon’s game is the last of back-rower Brett Ferres’ six-match ban.
He will be available to face Barrow and Jones-Buchanan reckons his return will be a huge boost.
He said: “Fez is fantastic and he just adds another dimension on the edge. I think we have a bit more cohesion when he’s there.
“He will be a big addition when he’s back playing, but we’ve got some healthy bodies at the minute and some competition for places.
“That always makes training that bit more intense, the quality of it. Everybody wants to get a place, so we’re not in a bad spot.”
Meanwhile, Jones-Buchanan insists he is still going strong, less than three months before his 36th birthday.
He said: “Somebody 50 years ago said you start getting old when you get to your 30s, but it’s a myth – I reckon it’s more like 40s.
“Things are good and I am still enjoying it. It is hard when you have to play these Easter periods, but it’s the same for everybody and it’s a challenge – and I have always enjoyed a challenge.
“The novelty has never worn off, but I have always said it’s not about me.
“If I stop contributing or there’s somebody who can do a better job I’ll step aside and let them do it, but as it is at the minute I’ve got a season to contend with.”
Catalans Dragons: from Gigot, Wiliame, Yaha, Myler, Moa, Aiton, Casty, Anderson, Bird, Bousquet, Garcia, Bosc, Duport, Simon, Thornley, Albert, Margalet, Belmas, Perez.
Leeds Rhinos: from Golding, Briscoe, Moon, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Sutcliffe, Delaney, Singleton, Mullally, Handley, Ormondroyd, Lilley, Oledzki, Walker.
Referee: Jack Smith (Warrington).
Kick-off: Today, 5pm BST (6pm local).