Six years after his last appearance for his country, Leeds Rhinos’ veteran forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan is on duty with England Knights, in the unexpected role of media manager.
Some of the players preparing for Saturday’s opening Test in Papua New Guinea were not born when Jones-Buchanan made his Rhinos debut in 1999, but none of them will match the 37-year-old for enthusiasm.
The seven-time Grand Final winner jumped at the chance when asked to travel with England’s second-string for their week-long training camp in Brisbane and two games in PNG and revealed he is ready and willing to step in if injuries strike
“I knew there would be a way back in,” he joked of his involvement with an international squad.
“I have never retired [from England]. I have got my boots in my bag, if it all goes belly up and we get a few knocks.
“Never say never.”
That may be an unlikely prospect, but Jones-Buchanan – who is set to play on into a 20th season for Leeds next year – is relishing his involvement with England’s future generation.
Saturday’s game will be the Knights’ first since 2013, but the squad has been revived to prepare players for the next two World Cups.
The group includes Rhinos’ Jack Walker, Ash Handley, Mikolaj Oledzki and Liam Sutcliffe as well as James Batchelor of Wakefield Trinity and Castleford Tigers’ Oliver Holmes.
Most attention will be focused on the senior squad’s Test series against New Zealand, which also begins this weekend, but Jones-Buchanan reckons the youngsters’ efforts deserve to be recognised.
“This is a great role,” he said.
“I love telling stories and I love hearing them.
“I think rugby league players and fans have got some of the best stories to tell and they don’t often share enough of them.
“I don’t know as much as I should about some legends of the game and I know professional players now who don’t know about the Watersplash [1968 Challenge Cup final].
“It should be part of the rugby league curriculum.
“There’s some talented boys in this Knights squad who could go on and potentially be part of the World Cup 2021-winning squad.
“It would be nice to look back and document their journey to Papua New Guinea and the experiences they had and show how important this pathway with England Knights is.”
Jones-Buchanan visited Fiji and Tonga with England ‘A’ in 2002 – along with future stars including Gareth Ellis, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Sean O’Loughlin – and reckons the Knights tour will be just as valuable an experience for the current players.
“There’s probably two sides of it,” he said.
“One of them is performance, playing on the pitch against a really strong, relentless Papua New Guinea side who are going to run like cannonballs and do it for 80 minutes.
“Then there’s another part of it where these boys have had to go and sort out their own vaccinations and visa and passports.
“They are going to have to think about washing their own kit.
“They are stars, but still young boys as well.
“Sometimes young lads from northern towns rely too much on our mums and our wives.
“To get into the wilds of Papua New Guinea – a nation that loves rugby league and has it as their primary sport – will be a wonderful experience.”