When you think of Leeds Rhinos’ self-titled golden generation, who do you think of first?
Kevin Sinfield, perhaps; the man who led the side, famously kicked the goals and was first to lift each and every one of the trophies won by Leeds since their first Grand Final success of 2004 through to his retirement in 2015.
Danny McGuire, maybe? The man who scored the tries, created the headlines and left Leeds as a Super League-winning captain like Sinfield last October.
Or Rob Burrow? The heartbeat of Leeds, the man who delivered countless unforgettable moments. Jamie Peacock? Kylie Leuluai? Matt Diskin? Brent Webb?
Chances are you probably won’t have thought of Jamie Jones-Buchanan first – but on the eve of a quite astonishing milestone for the evergreen, everlasting forward, it is only right his place in one of British sport’s most successful dynasties is recognised.
You’ll probably be aware that Jones-Buchanan will make his 400th appearance for the club on Thursday at Hull. Leeds, as they always do with moments and occasions like these, have made a big deal out of it – epitomising just how big a feat it is by confirming he will become only the 14th player in Leeds’ 123-year history to notch up 400 games for Leeds.
It is a phenomenal number – and amazingly for Jones-Buchanan, in effect the last man standing of Leeds’ original golden generation, he doesn’t look to be showing any signs of slowing down just yet.
At 36 (and only a week younger than the competition’s oldest player in Ben Westwood), Jones-Buchanan is still an 80-minute regular for Leeds as they go about defending their Super League title. He’s still as imperious and tireless as he was a decade ago when the Rhinos were winning trophies with the likes of Sinfield, McGuire and Peacock in their primes.
So often overlooked in favour of the flair players, what Jones-Buchanan brings to his hometown club, even now, as he prepares to turn 37 in August, is simply irreplaceable. For a man who’s been doing this since his debut in 1999 (!) in a sport of this ferocity and intensity, it’s a testament to the life Jones-Buchanan leads away from the game that he’s still at his peak. If he rolls through for another season beyond this one, he’ll reach 20 years of service at Leeds Rhinos.
Stop for a second and think about how many professional sportsmen – let alone rugby league players – get to that milestone. He gave a wonderful interview on Leeds’ YouTube channel this week, on the eve of the feat being achieved, where he was visibly moved and emotional when it was pointed out to him this was game number 400. He bleeds blue and amber – and he’s a fantastic ambassador for Leeds.
But this is about more than simply Jones-Buchanan the player, the unstoppable juggernaut who, now even heading into his late-30s, is still going. This is about Jones-Buchanan the person.
We crave good ambassadors for our sport. People we can put in front of a camera and be confident that, not only will they sell a good image for British rugby league, but they’ll also sound incredibly impressive as well.
What you get with Jones-Buchanan – as well as the thick Yorkshire accent, of course – is a particular level of intelligence about not only rugby league, but about life in general. Jones-Buchanan’s faith and belief is a big part of his life; you can skim through any interview for proof of that. That in itself is hugely commendable and deserves absolute recognition, and it epitomises why we’ve got a player and a person to be proud of in Jones-Buchanan.
Nice guys finish last in life, so we’ve been told time and time again. Jones-Buchanan is living, breathing proof that isn’t the case; in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.