Leeds Rhinos: Jamie Jones-Buchanan aims to ‘cheer a few people up’

THEY have have won only one of their opening six games this season and are third from bottom in Super League, but new interim-coach Jamie Jones-Buchanan is not planning major changes to how Leeds Rhinos go about things.

The 40-year-old’s first game in charge is a home Challenge Cup derby against Castleford Tigers in two days’ time, less than a week after he was asked to take over from Richard Agar.

Jones-Buchanan, who describes himself as “blue and amber through and through” was an assistant to the previous coach, who stepped down on Monday, but has no experience in charge of his own team.

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It will be a steep learning curve, especially with St Helens looming as Rhinos’ next Super League opponents, but Jones-Buchanan has pledged to put years spent playing under a host of leading coaches to good use and also intends to gain knowledge from other sports.

Former Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McClennan.

He admitted: “There are some little nuances we need to fix and we will be working hard to do that.”

However, with Leeds’s season going on the line this weekend, his first priority is to put smiles back on faces and encourage the players to enjoy their rugby.

“I want our performance to be better than it has been,” he stressed.

“We are the lowest-scoring team in Super League at the minute and when you look at our roster and what’s in the Leeds DNA, that’s not where we want to be, ever.

Former coach Tony Smith.

“We want to play exciting rugby and play with a bit of fluidity.

“I think that sometimes can be a reflection of the spirit within the team, how happy players are.

“I am a relationship person, I love people and I think my biggest strength is empathy.

“I recognise when players haven’t got a smile on their face and I believe I can quite often remedy that.

Leeds Rhinos' Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Picture: Phil Daly/Leeds Rhinos/SWpix.com

“I know what things to put in place.

“This is a new experience for me, but I am really excited about having an opportunity to cheer a few people up.”

Revealing who had the biggest influence in shaping how he will handle the role, Jones-Buchanan identified seven-time Grand Final-winning captain Kevin Sinfield.

He said: “While Kev wasn’t a coach, he was a leader – the best leader I have ever been around.

“He is probably number one as far as where I draw a lot of the advice and habit from.”

Jones-Buchanan signed for Leeds as a player when Dean Bell was coach and was given his debut by Graham Murray in 1999. He also played under Dean Lance, Daryl Powell, Tony Smith, Brian McClennan, Brian McDermott, the caretaker combination of Sinfield and James Lowes, David Furner and Agar.

He said: “I speak to Brian McClennan quite a bit.

“He is brilliant, he loves the club and he’s still interested.

“He sends me texts all the time about what he’s thinking.

“What a lovely, genuine, honest guy; someone like him always gives me the confidence to be transparent and honest, because that’s what he was.

“Obviously, I got on really well with Brian McDermott. I have not spoken to him for a while.

“Tony Smith was a genius in the way he individualised people, sometimes treated people a bit differently, but to their strengths.

“He was very bespoke and helped me to gain the understanding that with all these ingredients, we need to give them all a part to play and something to believe in.

“They are all a part of who I am.”

But Jones-Buchanan believes knowledge can also be gained from other sports.

“I have been doing a Level Four coaching apprenticeship with some high-level coaches from different sports this year, through UK Sport,” he confirmed.

“What I have tried to do is be really open-minded to the way coaching can learn from other sports. Sometimes we can be really guilty of being in a closed loop, especially when you have been in an environment for 25 years.

“[You believe] this is the way we do it and the only way to do it. Actually, what I have learned over the last couple of years is a different culture, different environment and different players brings slightly different nuances about how to get a job done.

“I can’t say ‘this is how we did it in our day, therefore this is the way to do it’, because that’s just wrong, though there are some underlying principles.”

A win over Castleford, Leeds’s fiercest top-flight rivals, would represent the perfect start for Jones-Buchanan, who has a long and varied relationship with the knockout competition.

He was both a winner and loser at Wembley as a player and assisted Agar when Leeds last lifted the trophy two years ago.

“It provides an opportunity and a distraction from what your league form looks like,” said Jones-Buchanan.

“If there was ever a time we needed a different focus, it would be in the Challenge Cup this week.

“It is really exciting, but it is about us; external things outside the bubble are going to have to take a back seat for now because we need to focus on ourselves and make sure we are in the best possible frame of mind and body to compete for it.”