It’s been a little over a week since Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s last game as interim Head Coach of his boyhood club the Leeds Rhinos, so now that the dust has settled, we’re looking back on his brief time in charge and whether he had the desired effect on the club he loves so much.
Before a ball was kicked this season, the notion that Leeds would be entrusting an interim boss was simply absurd. After consecutive play-off finishes, a Challenge Cup in 2020 and a Super League semi-final in 2021, the new signings who arrived at Headingley had Leeds fans expecting success in 2022 but the opposite ensued.
A disastrous start spelt the end of Richard Agar’s near three-year stint as Leeds coach after defeat to Salford with assistant coach Jones-Buchanan taking the reins following that defeat which left them level on points with Toulouse at the bottom.
It is quite the coincidence that Buchanan’s reign started after a trip to Salford and has ended ahead of another visit to the AJ Bell Stadium in new coach Rohan Smith’s first game in charge as he looks to usher in a new era at Headingley, but in the time between Salford games has Buchanan laid down the groundwork needed for Smith to make an instant impact?
Buchanan lives, breathes and eats Leeds Rhinos and always has. He won seven Grand Finals with the club missing out in 2015 through injury. He now wants to oversee the beginnings of another golden generation at Leeds but his time in charge got off to a poor start with thumping defeats to Castleford in the cup and Champions St Helens in the league.
Leeds copped a lot of stick after that 26-0 defeat to St Helens for describing it as an improved performance, but the groundwork for Leeds’ upwards trajectory under Buchanan was event in that game. There was a greater character from Leeds in that match as well as a defensive solidity. Granted they conceded 26 points but they could have quite easily conceded more against the league’s best team. They were also able to match the Champions in the middle.
From there Leeds were able to pick up an Easter draw against Huddersfield. This was a game Leeds should have won leading 20-10 with 150 seconds left, but it was again a much improved performance from the Rhinos. Again, against a top team they produced a controlled performance matching their big opponents in the middle and really should have won based on the first 78 minutes of the game.
Buchanan should also be credited for what he’s been able to do with Leeds’ youngsters. After that defeat to Huddersfield, he was forced to throw two 17-year-olds into the game on Easter Monday against Castleford in the shape of Jack Sinfield and Max Simpson and the duo have played the last three games for the Rhinos gradually improving week on week.
They, like the likes of Morgan Gannon, Liam Tindall and Jarrod O’Connor, have been given huge confidence by Buchanan and could very well be Leeds’ next golden generation of young talent thanks to the work down by Buchanan.
The Rhinos were unable to defeat the in-form Tigers in that particular game but again came close and since have registered back-to-back wins to take themselves as high as ninth in the table. The victory against Hull KR was particularly impressive as Leeds stopped the Robins dead in their tracks despite them being the league’s form team going into the game.
Leeds not only beat them but kept them scoreless something unthinkable just a few weeks ago. The 12 points Leeds themselves registered is still a little disappointing but they did look a lot sharper in attack.
Overall, results have improved with Leeds taking five points out of 10 in the league under Buchanan to begin climbing the table whilst some of Leeds’ first team players have begun showing their potential such as Blake Austin. Meanwhile, the Rhinos youngster now have brilliant experience under their belts which will help them develop over the next couple of years as Rohan Smith looks to build another superb team at Headingley.
Most importantly however is the improved culture at the club. This was the word most commonly said by Buchanan and others following the change in direction and its clear that Leeds now have a concrete ethos about working hard at the core of their side which is why they have been so defensively sound in recent weeks.
Overall, for getting Leeds competing in games, defending better and for the points he’s gotten on the board as well as the improved performances of star players and the development of young talent, Buchanan deserves praise and has his boyhood team buying into the values of the successful side Buchanan himself was once part of.