Super League preview: St Helens v Leeds Rhinos
Watch live on Sky Sports Arena from 7.30pm on Friday
Last Updated: 16/03/18 7:29pm
As the champions prepare to take on the early-season pacesetters, veteran Leeds forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan believes the current St Helens team are poised to emulate the club's treble-winners of 2006.
Saints were the dominant club at the start of Super League, winning the title five times in the first 10 years, and, although the trophies have been few and far between since, they have made a blazing start to 2018.
Justin Holbrook's men went desperately close to reaching last October's Grand Final and are the only team with a 100 per cent record so far this year, which the Rhinos will seek to end when they visit the Totally Wicked Stadium on Friday night.
Jones-Buchanan, who will make his 350th Super League appearance in the round six fixture, live on Sky Sports Arena and Main Event from 7.30pm on Friday, has been battling St Helens since 1999 and was in the Leeds team that beat them in four Grand Finals from 2007 to 2011.
"When I retire - and it's probably not a million miles away - I'll look back on St Helens as being the best team I've played against without a doubt," said Jones-Buchanan, who at 36 is the second-oldest player in Super League behind Warrington's Ben Westwood.
"You've got Bradford Bulls in their heyday and Wigan who are always very good, but some of those Saints sides were just phenomenal.
"They've probably not had that fluent rugby league since the likes of Sean Long, Paul Sculthorpe and Keiron Cunningham but they've never ever been far away and they've got a good group now.
"The ingredients are starting to gel. Justin Holbrook has made a big difference since he came in.
"I thought their onslaught probably started in the last six to eight weeks of 2017. They were phenomenal in that semi-final against Cas, I don't know how they lost it.
"This year they've started really well and this week will want to make a statement by beating the current champions."
Holbrook has lost just seven of his 23 matches since succeeding Keiron Cunningham last May but two of those were against Leeds and he insists the Yorkshiremen are still side the side to beat.
"They are the defending champions," Holbrook said. "They are the ones everyone has to chase. They are a good quality side and it will be a hard game.
"They've only lost one game this year so we know it will be a tough game. But it is one we are looking forward to."
Leeds interrupted their early title defence by flying to Melbourne for the World Club Challenge, but Jones-Buchanan says the champions can be pleased with their start.
"It's been pretty good so far when you look at the transition that we've had with some of the lads that have left and some that have come in," he said.
"We've got a long way to go in terms of the way we flow but that is something you do incrementally each week. It's probably not until Magic Weekend when you want to hit your full boot straps.
"But how good would it be if we could turn Saints over?"
St Helens' 19-man squad: 1 Jonny Lomax, 2 Tommy Makinson, 3 Ryan Morgan, 4 Mark Percival, 5 Adam Swift, 6 Theo Fages, 7 Matty Smith, 9 James Roby, 10 Kyle Amor, 11 Zeb Taia, 12 Jon Wilkin, 13 Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14 Luke Douglas, 16 Luke Thompson, 17 Dom Peyroux, 18 Danny Richardson, 19 Regan Grace, 20 Matty Lees, 23 Ben Barba.
Leeds Rhinos' 19-man squad: 1 Ashton Golding, 2 Tom Briscoe, 3 Kallum Watkins, 5 Ryan Hall, 6 Joel Moon, 7 Richie Myler, 9 Matt Parcell, 10 Brad Singleton, 11 Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 12 Carl Ablett, 14 Brad Dwyer, 15 Brett Delaney, 16 Anthony Mullally, 22 Ash Handley, 23 Jack Ormondroyd, 24 Jack Walker, 27 Cameron Smith, 28 Mikolaj Oledzki, 30 Josh Walters