VETERAN FORWARD Jamie Jones-Buchanan reckons this weekend’s relegation four-pointer at London Broncos is as big as any of the 13 major domestic finals he has played in for Leeds Rhinos.
Points difference means Rhinos will be safe in Betfred Super League if they win at Ealing tomorrow.
But London are only two points behind and defeat would leave Leeds facing a nervous final two weeks of the campaign.
“When the weather changes and you start to smell autumn coming, it tells us it is almost Grand Final time,” Jones-Buchanan said.
“We are so used to being in a Grand Final or looking towards some glory but, in many ways, this game is our Grand Final this year, it is our be-all and end-all.
“This is what it has ultimately come down to and, if we get the job done, it is another lesson learned.
“We will have survived and we’ll go into next season that bit wiser and, hopefully, we can grow into the team the city and the fans and the ground deserve it to be.”
Jones-Buchanan hasn’t played since Richard Agar was appointed interim-coach in May.
He suffered a hamstring/back problem in previous boss Dave Furner’s final game in charge, away to Salford Red Devils, but has been in training for two months and and waiting for his chance.
Agar has confirmed the 38-year-old will play at some stage over the next three weeks and he has been named in Leeds’ initial 19-man squad for tomorrow.
“It’s good to be back in the squad,” the seven-time Super League winner said.
“It has been a long, tough season for the team and myself individually, getting back to fitness and then trying to find a way back into the squad.
“But Rich has been great and I think all the players have always had the mentality of Leeds first.
“It is always about the team, not the individual, but it will be good to come back and contribute what I can and fill whatever gap needs filling.”
Jones-Buchanan will retire at the end of the season, more than 20 years after his Super League debut.
He is set to captain the team in their final game of the campaign, at home to Warrington Wolves in two weeks’ time, but has made only seven appearances so far this term.
“I’ve played 419 times for Leeds and I’d love to get to 420, or 422,” he said.
“It has been a tough year, I didn’t expect to finish like I have physically.
“The physical side of my game and my body has always been my biggest strength but, I guess at 38 years old, age overcomes us.
“I have always said the novelty of wearing that blue and amber jersey never wears off and to wear it one more time is just as big an honour as the first time.”
Though they aren’t safe yet, Jones-Buchanan reckons Rhinos are in better shape now than when he last played almost four months ago and is convinced the club has a bright future.
“A lot of that is down to the key performance indicators Rich has put in place,” he said.
“The young guys have got a real sense of ownership and belonging now and it is really, really good to see.
“The seed is small, but it is starting to grow.”