LEEDS RHINOS’ golden generation may have had their last hurrah on the pitch, but they remain a key part of the club off it.
After being rewarded for 20 years’ service as a player with a testimonial game last week, club stalwart Jamie Jones-Buchanan was yesterday confirmed as a full-time assistant to coach Richard Agar.
Having made his debut for Rhinos in 1999, the 38-year-old last season became only the third player in Leeds’ history, after John Holmes and Alan Smith, to complete two decades of service for the club.
He retired at the end of 2019 as the final member of Leeds’ golden generation, a tight knit, largely local group who dominated Super League from 2004 to 2017.
Jones-Buchanan played in seven of Rhinos’ eight Grand Finals during the most successful era in the Headingley outfit’s history and is the fifth player from that side to join the backroom staff.
Kevin Sinfield has been Rhinos’ director of rugby since July, 2018, Chev Walker is now academy coach and Rob Burrow has taken charge of the reserves.
On one hand we need to create our own identity a bit and let those times go, but at the same time I want to draw on those experiences that have made this club fantastic.Richard Agar
In addition, Jamie Peacock, who has been involved with the marketing department since returning from a spell as head of rugby at Hull KR, will assist the team this year with “a little bit of work around culture and leadership”, Agar has revealed.
The coach himself admits there are positives and negatives to the presence of such past greats as he tries to build a new era of success, but feels having so much experience behind the scenes will benefit the team this year.
“To have those guys around and that influence – knowing what the club’s about, that leadership and experience – is brilliant for our players,” said Agar who is preparing for his first full year in charge.
“On one hand we need to create our own identity a bit and let those times go, but at the same time I want to draw on those experiences that have made this club fantastic.”
A Leeds fan before joining the team, Jones-Buchanan has become synonymous with his hometown club and it would be difficult to imagine Headingley without him.
“He has been in and around our staff for a number of weeks,” said Agar, of the former England and Great Britain forward.
“We set Jonesy a task earlier this year of doing some stuff defensively in and around contact and the wrestle room.
“Jonesy doesn’t do anything by half-measures and he really impressed us, not only the quality of his delivery, the work he was putting in behind the scenes and the variety to his sessions.
“He is a very deep thinker, he can put himself as a player in a lot of the situations he is coaching and he made an immediate impression on me in what he was doing. I don’t need to explain his qualities as a bloke and we felt he would be a real good fit.”
For Jones-Buchanan, it is a leap into the unknown.
He has experience coaching at amateur level and in Leeds’ scholarship, but admitted in terms of involvement with the Super League squad he has “loads to learn”.
He said: “Rich is a good teacher and I am pleased he is giving me opportunities.
“It is a tremendous honour and a brilliant opportunity and I don’t take it for granted. I think when a lot of players finish they move on into a different walk of life so I am really privileged to still be at the coal face with the boys.
“That’s where I get the most sense of gratification and most fulfilment and ultimately it comes down to Leeds being successful.
“I was privileged to be part of a very successful era and I want to see that continue.”
Having played alongside many of the current squad only four months ago, Jones-Buchanan now finds himself issuing the orders.
That can be a difficult transition, he insisted he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“I think my age helps with that,” he said.
“Look at our captain, Stevie Ward – I was his first coach when he came to Leeds, I coached him in the under-16s as a 15-year-old.
“I have got a lot of love and respect from Wardy and a great friendship as well.
“If he is the example, the cornerstone, the rest of them are all in line so I’ve no challenges in that regard.”
While Rhinos’ backroom staff, which also includes Featherstone Rovers coach James Webster working on a part-time basis, is now up to full-strength, the playing squad has suffered a blow ahead of the new campaign.
Agar confirmed hooker Kruise Leeming, a recent signing from Huddersfield Giants, will miss the opening two or three rounds due to a knee injury suffered in training before Christmas.
Up-and-coming centre/second-row Alex Sutcliffe is also on the casualty list after breaking a hand during last week’s warm weather training camp in Spain.