Jamie Jones-Buchanan on his Leeds Rhinos love affair, Grand Final glory and his glittering career

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IT FEELS disrespectful, almost criminal even, to write a feature with Jamie Jones-Buchanan limited to just 1,100 words.

Whereas some sportsmen have little to say and such a total would leave the writer in a state of panic, with the colourful Leeds Rhinos legend it is rarely enough.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones Buchanan celebrates with the Grand Final trophy.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones Buchanan celebrates with the Grand Final trophy.

He has plenty to say and there is not a platitude in sight; it is often original, insightful or humorous and, sometimes, all three at once.

No subject is off limits, there is always an anecdote to be told and such depth.

Indeed, ask the 38-year-old just one solitary question and it could easily result in an answer that could fill this very page.

But, with that in mind, this writer has gone and wasted 126 words already so it is time to get over to the main man himself.

The 2019 Spirit of Super League winner was Leeds's Jamie Jones-Buchanan. (Picture: SWPix.com)

The 2019 Spirit of Super League winner was Leeds's Jamie Jones-Buchanan. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Today is Super League Grand Final day. This used to be Jones-Buchanan’s domain; he won an incredible seven titles as part of Rhinos’ famed ‘golden generation’.

Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire had the flair and guile, Kevin Sinfield the tactical nous but Jones-Buchanan brought the hard yards, the graft and an insatiable appetite for work, the man all players wants to line up alongside rather than against.

He finally called it a day last month, ending a truly remarkable career.

Still, perhaps there are few better people to ask about what the players at St Helens and Salford Red Devils – the protagonists in the 2019 Grand Final – will be going through right now in the hours before kick-off.

Jones-Buchanan, whose first Old Trafford triumph came in 2004 and last just two years ago, used to enjoy the build-up to such occasions. Because there was hardly any actual build-up.

“It was relatively short compared to the Challenge Cup,” he recalled, having finally won the Wembley showpiece in 2014 at the fifth attempt.

“By virtue of the Cup format – the semi being some time before – you’ve got a few weeks building up to it and lots of events involved around it.

“But the Grand Final is almost like you’re playing an away game; there’s none of the ceremonial, ritualistic events to go through – dinners, families to buy tickets for… and hair-cuts!

“It’s the week after the semi and it’s very much a smash-and-grab and that really suited us.

“We were used to playing Friday night 8’clock at Headingley, and playing on a Saturday at 6 0’clock was similar.

“That was the earliest we ever liked to play; we could tolerate six but historically playing any earlier we always struggled.

“The beauty of the Grand Final is you don’t know you’re there until the last minute and – in that last lead-up to the game itself – you can’t get any stronger.

“You can’t physically do any weights to make you stronger, you can’t run any fitness sessions that are going to make you any fitter and, if anything, you are probably still recovering from the semi-final particularly if you didn’t win it two weeks before.

“So the last week is just all about understanding who’s in the team, what the gameplan is and how you are going to condense the lessons you have learned that year into one last 80 minute session of the year – making sure all the ducks are in a row.”

One-club Jones-Buchanan, who played more than 400 games for his hometown Leeds and also represented England and Great Britain, conceded that process – and dealing with nerves –became easier the older he got.

“I played in eight Grand Finals and won seven of them,” he said.

“Earlier on it was quite nerve-wracking and you can be quite superstitious about certain things – getting the kit ready, team being announced at certain times. But by the end of it, by the last Grand Final in 2017, I’ll never forget what happened. We were playing Cas and we’d been paggered by them every game.

“We even got beat 66-10 earlier in the year. I went to Old Trafford and we’d been given these magnesium flakes to get a bath.

“They were supposed to help you sleep. But the big things for me are sleep, water and food, probably in that order.

“If I’ve slept well I’ll know I’ll probably play well so these magnesium flakes were a big thing. I took my camera and they wanted us to put some stuff up on social media but me being me, I can’t do anything half-hearted.

“So I made a Grand Final video and ended up going round everyone and getting all the lads to hold their bags of magnesium and do different shots.

“Before the lads went to bed the night before I went to the toilet with them, or recorded getting into bed or getting in the bath and I was up until about midnight editing this video to make sure it got done...!

“The fact I was playing in a Grand Final the next day almost played second fiddle!

“The reason being you can’t do anything really to change the way you are in that Grand Final.

“All you can do is prepare mentally and when you get old enough and experienced enough to understand you have enough miles in your legs you can deal with it like that.

“We always used to do the same routine; I had the belief and confidence to make that video because the routine follows.

“We’d always stop at the Midland (Hotel) in the middle of Manchester. In that last Grand Final, on the way there, Ryan Hall was just on You Tube watching videos of people all over the world playing the piano in random places.

“It might seem bizarre to an outsider as you’re going to the biggest event of the year. But you almost become autonomous by the fact we’ve done so many.”

Which, of course, is not the case for rookies Salford tonight who make their maiden Grand Final appearance.

Granted, a handful of their players have played and won at Old Trafford – Mark Flanagan and Josh Jones did so for Saints in 2014 – but they are massive underdogs against the leaders.

The talented Jones-Buchanan, who will be there ready to capture post-match interviews for Rugby AM in one of his countless subsidiary roles, had some words of advice.

“I’d be saying believe in what has got you to this point,” he said.

“You’re good enough to be there and you have all the ingredients.

“Defensively in terms of winning the ruck, they are outstanding. It’s very hard to get any ruck speed against Salford.

“Don’t let the occasion overraw your ethos – that work-ethic we have all seen – and go out and challenge Saints. You can.”

It was fitting that Jones-Buchanan was awarded the Spirit of Super League at the Man of Steel awards on Sunday night.

It is presented to the player who personifies the competition’s values of sportsmanship and commitment and who has earned the respect of their peers.

We might not see a character quite like him again. But thankfully he isn’t going far. And there’s plenty of words left over.