Veteran star Jamie Jones-Buchanan is preparing to blow off the Christmas cobwebs, 20 years on from his first Boxing Day game.
Jones-Buchanan has confirmed he will retire at the end of the 2019 season.
He has been named in Rhinos’ initial squad for Wednesday’s Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge against Wakefield Trinity at Emerald Headingley and is determined to make every minute on the field count.
He said: “I am pretty sure my first Boxing Day game was 1998, before my debut in ‘99.
“I really looked forward to that. I remember telling my nana I was playing.
“She is quite legendary in rugby league, I was really excited and she went ‘what do you mean, who are you playing with, men’?
“She could not understand it because I was only about 17 at the time. They were exciting times, it was the start of my journey and - as the beginning of the end - playing the Boxing Day game this year is fabulous.”
He may be 37, but Jones-Buchanan insists he has lost none of his famous enthusiasm.
“Christmas is my favourite time of year and Boxing Day games have always been pretty prestigious,” he stated.
“It is a great opportunity to play with the new boys who’ve come in.
“We can do a lot of work on the training paddock, but actually playing in a live game is a different kettle of fish altogether.
“The weather’s always a bit greasy and a bit muddy and it takes you back to your young days playing.
“That’s proper rugby league and it’s an exciting and a good way to get into the start of the new season.”
Next week’s game will be Rhinos’ first under new coach David Furner and marks the official opening of Headingley’s South Stand.
Joines-Buchanan said: “I went in the South Stand changing rooms for the first time this week and it’s wonderful, outstanding, first class - and they are not even going to be the primary ones when it [the stadium redevelopment] is finished.
“It is a fantastic facility and it’s great for the fans as well to be able to get into the new stand and make the most of the facilities.
“As a player I am really honoured to have played for such a long time in the old ground in front of the old South Stand, but this is a new era now and it’s great to be at the start of that.”
Trinity have named a strong squad and Jones-Buchanan reckons it will be an ideal test of where Rhinos are at this stage in pre-season.
“They have been outstanding for the last couple of years,” he reflected.
“They will want to put their best foot forward this year and really challenge.
“They’ve not been miles off and they’ve got a new few signings in there.
“I expect Danny Brough to come and be pretty exciting. He will put a few balls up and it will come down with snow on it.
“He will try and referee the game as well I expect so it will be pretty dramatic and exciting and that’s what we love on Boxing Day.”