THE most successful era in Leeds Rhinos’ history will finally come to an end on Friday night.
Rhinos’ two longest-serving players, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Carl Ablett, will hang up their boots after the club’s final game of the season, at home to Warrington Wolves.
Both have seven Grand Final wins to their name, but while Ablett has not played this year because of injury, Jones-Buchanan is set to go out all guns blazing. He was a try scorer against Salford last week, in his first game since suffering a back/hamstring injury in May, and will captain the team when he pulls on his beloved blue and amber for the 421st time.
Jones-Buchanan, 38, made his debut in May, 1999, under coach Graham Murray. He has been a stalwart through relegation battles and trophy triumphs, but is determined to keep his emotions in check, for the 80 minutes of action at least.
“I have thought about it from all kinds of avenues and, to be honest, most of my emotions in the last three months, while I’ve been trying to recover, have been concerns at how it could just potentially fizzle out,” he admitted.
“Actually playing last weekend has given me a bit of renewed spirit and, I have to say, the lads have been absolutely brilliant.
“I have played with about 150 different players and most of them have come and gone, but I don’t think I have ever experienced it when the players have been so welcoming and accommodating and reverent to someone like myself.
“That has been really nice. Even though we’ve had a difficult year, some of the relationships I have built up with some of the younger players going into this new era has been outstanding.
“I wouldn’t change a thing, just for that reason alone.”
Leeds forward James Donaldson has agreed a new two-year contract with the Rhinos.
Batley Bulldogs, who parted company with Matt Diskin this week, have named Craig Lingard as their new head coach with Karl Harrison also returning to the club as coaching consultant.