Leeds Rhinos v Castleford Tigers: Pack star JJB right at home at Elland Road

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IT MAY be unfamiliar surroundings for Leeds Rhinos, but stalwart forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan feels at home at Elland Road.

Jones-Buchanan played for Rhinos in last month’s win over Hull KR there and in four World Club Challenges on Leeds United’s ground.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan.

But he revealed he has a deeper connection to the stadium which will play host to tonight’s Betfred Super League derby with Castleford Tigers.

“It’s not unfamiliar to me; I love Elland Road,” the 36-year-old veteran said.

“It’s a place I loved to come as a young kid to watch Leeds United; I was a Leeds United fan.

“I have been fortunate to play there a few times in my career, not least against Hull KR a few weeks ago, so it is getting more and more familiar – and I used to work there as well when I was 15.

George Graham.

George Graham.

“I know the place inside out, so I am looking forward to it.

“It is a massive game against Cas and the interesting thing is a lot of Cas fans support Leeds United so it will be a bit of a home ground for everybody, I think, in many ways.

“It is a great stadium, a great environment and a great opportunity to put on a good spectacle.”

Recalling his days on the Elland Road staff, Jones-Buchanan revealed: “I was a waiter.

“I used to work in the banqueting suite and I used to take cups of coffee to George Graham.

“I used to deliver bits of food and drop gravy everywhere. It was one of those learning curves, but it was good for my life experience and put me in good stead.

“All the hard work as a youngster helped me become the man I am today and 20 years later I’m looking forward to playing a game of rugby [at Elland Road].”

Rhinos are hoping to add at least 9,000 to the 16,149 who watched the 20-11 win over Hull KR, but say they have no plans to move any other matches away from Emerald Headingley.

The atmosphere last month against KR was muted, but Jones-Buchanan reckons it will go up a notch tonight.

“It was a bit of a dart on the board, a bit of a marker,” he said of the previous game at Elland Road.

“It was a new venue for a lot of people, but I thought it was pretty good.

“There was obviously a lot of anticipation about going over to Melbourne after that game, but I think it will be electric this week.

“Everybody’s got a few games under their belt now. Cas are playing really well, after a poor start and they’ve put some good performances in.

“The game being called off last week against Wigan means they will be that bit fresher and more keen to get out and put a good game together. Where we’re concerned, we’re really excited to have won at St Helens last week, a massive, massive win for us and something we can build on.”

Jones-Buchanan has topped Rhinos’ tackle count in each of their past two games, making 46 in last week’s victory.

“I keep saying the engine is the last thing to go, I think, ” he remarked. “There’ll never be a lack of enthusiasm from me or a lack of joy.

“I am representing my team and my city and every time I go out in a Leeds shirt the novelty has never worn off.

“I will continue that until I finish playing.

“I am just happy to be able to contribute as I’ve got older and still be able to play a part in the side.”

He added: “The great thing against St Helens was the contribution of the young boys, Mikolaj Oledzki and Cameron Smith and Ash Handley as well.

“He seems to have a great time at St Helens. It was great to see them, because they are going to take the club into the future.”

Rhinos will again be without a host of key players tonight, particularly in the pack, but Jones-Buchanan said: “Saints were top of the league – and top of the league for a reason – and we managed to put a good performance together.

“We are nowhere near the finished article – there’s still a lot for us to do – but this is another opportunity for us to test ourselves against another fantastic team who are getting back to the form they were in in 2017 and start to grow our own performance.”