JAMIE JONES-BUCHANAN is expecting a dogfight at Hull KR on Sunday.
If he recovers from an Achilles injury, Ryan Bailey’s first game for Rovers will be against Leeds Rhinos, the club where he won six Super League titles, three World Club crowns and the Challenge Cup last season.
Jones-Buchanan was alongside Bailey every step of the way and the Leeds pack man is looking forward to the First Utility Super League round one reunion with mixed feelings.
“I think it will probably be like when we used to train together,” Jones-Buchanan said of the potential clash with Bailey. “I remember (former Leeds coach) Brian McClennan used to say we were like a couple of puppies – very close, but always fighting!
“We used to get quite aggressive at times. I have never played against Bails before, but he is a great player and it was sad when he left. I am one of the players who misses him the most, but he will want a big game against his old club and we have got to watch out, because we know what he can do. It will be weird, but I am looking forward to it.”
Bailey made his Rhinos debut in 2002 and played 313 senior games before being released last autumn, with a year left on his contract. The former Great Britain prop has a controversial reputation, but Jones-Buchanan expects him to cope with coming up against his former team so early in his Rovers career.
“I think he will handle it,” said the Leeds man. “He’s not a young lad, he is a professional player and he’s played international. He will go out and do whatever job Hull KR want him to do.
“He has got a new group of friends now and we have all played against old team-mates in the past.
“It’s coincidental that his first proper game for Hull KR is against his old club, but we haven’t talked too much about it. We do know he is someone we have to keep an eye on though.”
Assessing Bailey as a player, Jones-Buchanan added: “When at his best, he is world class. I remember doing fitness with him and he has an unbelievable engine. We used to do five-minute runs up on the track at Leeds Beckett University and fitness is one of my strengths, but I could never beat him. He is aggressive, he’s big, fearless, he’s got an off-load and he’s even got a kicking game. He’s a very skilful player.”
Bailey did not attend Rhinos’ Boxing Day game against Wakefield, when he was due to receive a farewell presentation, but was at last month’s Golden Decade celebration. “I’m pleased he was part of that,” Jones-Buchanan said. “We are both Bramley lads and we’ve been fortunate to go on a really good journey together. He has had his ups and downs and his controversies, but he has worked hard over the years and he deserves to be part of the Golden Decade legacy.”
Meanwhile, Jones-Buchanan is aiming to make up for lost time in Sunday’s season-opener, after an injury-hit 2014. He said: “I didn’t play anything like as many games as I wanted to last year, I came back early to pre-season with the young lads and went through all the rigorous stuff the young lads do and I am feeling really fit and strong.
“Hopefully, God willing, I will be able to start the season really well and get a few games under my belt. I remember last year when we went to Hull KR for the first game, I had a calf strain and didn’t play. This year I want to get off to a good start, get over the first hurdle and then take it one game at a time.”