CLUB STALWART Jamie Jones-Buchanan is among a handful of Leeds Rhinos players who graduated to the pitch from Headingley’s famous South Stand.
Turnstiles leading to the iconic structure will be closed for the final time after tonight’s visit of St Helens in the Betfred Super-8s.
Demolition workers are poised to move in and 86 years of history will be flattened to make way for a new, state of the art stand which is due for completion in 2019.
It will be an emotional night and Jones-Buchanan admitted he is sorry to see the South Stand go, but he reckons the club will be in better shape when the redevelopment is completed.
“My first experience at Leeds was in the South Stand,” Jones-Buchanan recalled.
“I never thought about being a professional player or playing for Leeds.
“I just came to watch the best team in my local area. That is where my journey started and I was fortunate to go on and sign for Leeds at the tender age of 15.
“The rest of it is history, but the South Stand has been an amazing place and so many different things to so many different people over so many years. There’s been so many epic games and big games and not just for Leeds, but internationals as well.
“I remember coming here and watching the Australians play in front of about 22-23,000 people.
“I was very much part of that South Stand and I loved every minute of it. It will be a shame to see it pulled down, but how good is it that we can stay at the same ground, preserve our history and heritage and grow and evolve into a bigger, better club?”
The 35-year-old, who made his Rhinos debut in 1999, reckons the time is right for a change and an upgrade.
The new South Stand will be a two-tier building, including seats and a standing terrace similar to the current Carnegie Stand.
The back-to-back North Stand, shared with Yorkshire County Cricket Club, will also close at the end of the season and is due to be demolished in October.
It will be replaced by a modern, all-seater stand and Jones-Buchanan said he is excited by how Headingley will look in two years’ time.
“It is really important we capture and respect the past and what the South Stand has been to so many people over the years and what it has witnessed and the force it has brought to the club and its success,” he said.
“The South Stand and the South Standers are a big part of what this club is all about.
“They are why we go out and play and why we are motivated to win trophies, for our fans who come and support us.
“We all carry the Rhinos banner and identity and the South Standers are a big part of that. They will still be there.
“At the end of the day it is bricks and mortar that will be coming down and the club is building a better stand for them to carry on their identity in.
“It is important we capture that history and use it to look forward into the future.”
Saints are ideal opponents for the South Stand’s final game, according to Jones-Buchanan. The teams have been fierce rivals over the years, including four Super League Grand Finals.
“It is going to be a really tough game this week,” Jones-Buchanan predicted.
“We are coming off a poor performance last week against Wakefield and Saints are in good form.
“They lost narrowly to Hull last week, but seem to be getting better on a weekly basis. Saints are going to keep getting better, but I think it’s added motivation that we go out and do the event justice – and hopefully make it a successful one.”
Jones-Buchanan is honest about Rhinos’ performance in last week’s 38-6 defeat, which left them with just a one-point buffer over third-placed Hull, and his own role in it.
He admitted: “It was a massive off-day.
“We will have to play a lot better as a team and I’ll have to play a lot better as an individual.
“Liam Sutcliffe said we shot ourselves in the foot – and I did most of the shooting.
“It was one of those once-in-a-decade memories. I’ll be glad to put it behind me, but what is so disappointing is that we played well against Wigan the week before.
“We have talked a lot this year about responding from defeats, but we have got to start responding well to success as well – triumph and disaster, treat those two imposters just the same Rudyard Kipling said in the poem. We have got to keep learning each week and do our best to go forward and make sure we are in decent, consistent form going into the back end of the year.”
Rhinos will be looking for an improvement in all areas after scoring just one try and conceding six last week.
“Some of the tries we conceded were calamitous,” Jones-Buchanan said. “When we are good we are good and when we are bad we are bad. It’s like that style of rugby that Warrington play and it has bitten them on the backside quite often this year.
“When we are bad it does the same to us. We need to get some consistency and understand how it works on a regular basis because we have got an opportunity and it would be a shame not to get to the Grand Final this year, having been in and around the top-four all season.”