Peter Smith: Curtain to come down on last of Leeds Rhinos’ golden generation

Jamie Jones-Buchanan scores Leeds Rhinos' second try against Salford Red Devils. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan scores Leeds Rhinos' second try against Salford Red Devils. Picture: Bruce Rollinson.
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The first time Jamie Jones-Buchanan wore a Leeds shirt at the Steven Mullaney Memorial Tournament in Wakefield in 1993 for Leeds City Boys Under-13s. From the back left are:  Craig Brown, Andrew Turner, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Daniel Peat, Chris Halliday, Kevin Sykes, Steven Precious, Chris Birchall, Ryan Angus. Front from left are: Jonathan Holmes, Matthew Clarkson, Micky Huddart, Lee Baines (captain), Simon Breakspeare, Matthew Tuttle, Robert North.  Picture: Stephen Boothroyd.

The first time Jamie Jones-Buchanan wore a Leeds shirt at the Steven Mullaney Memorial Tournament in Wakefield in 1993 for Leeds City Boys Under-13s. From the back left are: Craig Brown, Andrew Turner, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Daniel Peat, Chris Halliday, Kevin Sykes, Steven Precious, Chris Birchall, Ryan Angus. Front from left are: Jonathan Holmes, Matthew Clarkson, Micky Huddart, Lee Baines (captain), Simon Breakspeare, Matthew Tuttle, Robert North. Picture: Stephen Boothroyd.

It’s fair to say Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who will hang up his boots after a final hurrah for Leeds Rhinos against Warrington Wolves on Friday, is a one-off.

Now 38, Jones-Buchanan has played for Rhinos in three different decades since his debut in May, 1999 and, along with Carl Ablett who has also announced his retirement, is last man standing from the golden generation.

There are many good people in rugby league, the sport breeds them and Jones-Buchanan – Jonesy, or JJB – is right at the top of the list.

Among the most competitive individuals in the game, Jones-Buchanan has overcome the odds from day one.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones-Buchanan in character as Doorman Dave in 'Playing The Joker'.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones-Buchanan in character as Doorman Dave in 'Playing The Joker'.

A series of groin injuries as a teenager came close to ending his career before it had really begun but, having jumped that hurdle, he has gone on to establish himself as a modern great.

His record speaks for itself: wins in seven out of his eight Grand Finals, three league leaders’ shield triumphs, five Challenge Cup finals – one win – and seven World Club Challenges, three of those on the victorious side.

That’s as well as one Great Britain cap and 11 for England. Not bad for a lad from Bramley, or the Big Apple as he calls it.

He will freely admit there have been bigger, faster, more skilful all-round players, but few in any era could match Jones-Buchanan’s passion, enthusiasm, positivity or sheer, old-fashioned love of playing the game.

Carl Ablett in action against Wakefield in 2005.

Carl Ablett in action against Wakefield in 2005.

Time in his company is inevitably spirit-raising.

Nothing in his career has come easy; since the injuries when he was starting out he has faced a series of setbacks which would have finished most other players.

Even this year, he has been hampered by a hamstring/back problem and did not play for 14 successive games, but the strength of his comeback against Salford last week was a credit to his character. And the way his team-mates celebrated Jones-Buchanan’s try illustrated how highly thought of and well-liked he is within the group.

A true team man, it’s telling his career highlight was from a game he didn’t play in, when Kevin Sinfield asked him to help lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 2015, a few weeks after he had suffered potentially career-ending knee damage.

Carl Ablett is tackled by Adam Quinlan last season.

Carl Ablett is tackled by Adam Quinlan last season.

It is entirely fitting he will get to go out the right way on Friday, leading the team as captain into their last game of the season. It will be his 421st appearance for Rhinos, a total only 11 players have bettered in the club’s history.

In some ways Jones-Buchanan fits the stereotype image of a rugby league professional; he’s northern and has an accent.

People who don’t know him may regard him as not that bright.

That’s massively untrue; he can be as daft as a brush at times but Jones-Buchanan will hold his own in conversation with anyone on any subject, from Star Trek to rocket science and he’s funny with it – as those who have heard his public speaking will confirm. Fortunately, Friday will be only the closing of one chapter.

Jones-Buchanan is to remain part of things at Headingley, working with both Rhinos and the club’s foundation, but on the field Super League will miss one of its greatest, most unique characters.

It is a shame Ablett, Leeds’ longest-serving player after Jones-Buchanan, won’t get to bow out on his own terms

The 33-year-old hasn’t played since suffering an ankle injury on September 1 last year and has decided to retire with a year remaining on his contract. Quieter than JJB off the field, he has been just as influential on it and holds the record for the most Great Final appearances without defeat, seven.

Equally impressive at centre or second-row, Ablett has been a Rhinos stalwart for more than a decade and one of the most underrated players in Super League.

Another fierce competitor, he has scored 80 tries – three more than Jones-Buchanan – in 323 appearances and is another who deserves to be remembered as one of Leeds’ very best.