Buchanan steels himself for Penrith
Jack Buchanan knows he is about to find out a baptism of fire isn't restricted to one game in the NRL.
After packing down for Wests Tigers as a 20-year-old prop in his first-grade debut against Newcastle front-rowers Willie Mason and Kade Snowden last Monday, Buchanan will see battle-hardened Sam McKendry and Tim Grant opposite him for Penrith in the battle of the cats at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday.
McKendry, has 74 first-grade games and seven Tests for New Zealand, while Grant has notched up 91 first-grade appearances and two State of Origins for NSW.
Buchanan realises he is going to be hunted, just like Mason (230 first-grade games, 13 Origins for NSW and 24 Tests) and Snowden (116 first-grade games, two Origins for NSW and one Test) went after him at Hunter Stadium.
The Knights thrashed the Tigers 42-10, and the Panthers are coming off a 32-10 win over Canberra.
It's a massive challenge for a rookie like Buchanan, but at least what comes his way won't be a surprise – and that should be some help.
"I'll be targeted again," rookie Buchanan admits dismissively to NRL.com. "A young guy, and especially in the front row... it’s going to happen. I've just got to take it head-on and do my best.
"There was a lot of talk towards me in the Newcastle game, especially from big Willie, but you can't let that get into your head. You're out there to do a job, and you've got to do your best to try to get that done.
"The senior boys have all told me to ignore all of the talk on the field. They’ve told me you can’t afford to get caught up in it.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't get the job done last week, but I don't think the talk had much to do with it. We just can't give a team of that calibre so much possession coming out of our own half."
Words are just one thing, though. The big hits are going to keep coming as well, when experienced opponents try to destroy the new boy's confidence by forcing mistakes.
"It will be tough against guys like McKendry, Grant and (Sika) Manu," Buchanan said. "These are the sort of guys I was watching on TV a couple of years ago, when I didn't think I would get here.
"It will be a huge test for me, and for our entire forward pack.
"There was a lot of talk during the off-season that our forward pack wasn't big enough, or strong enough, but we've done a lot of hard work at training and we believe that as a pack we are big enough, and strong enough, and aggressive enough.
"But we have to come out and prove our point this weekend, against the likes of McKendry and Grant and all that.
"There's obviously no easy game in the NRL, but I love a challenge, and we, as a forward pack, love a challenge."
Buchanan's performance in a well-beaten side against the Knights was encouraging. He played for 40 minutes and made 84 metres from 12 runs, plus 30 tackles.
He was a standout performer for his former club St George Illawarra in the Under-20s competition last year, averaging 15 runs for 144 metres each week, plus 33 tackles – even scoring three tries to boot.
"To step up to this level and find out what I can do is a huge challenge, but I've taken it with both hands," he said. "It's a plus for me to have held on to my first-grade spot for the second round, but I can't be satisfied with just that. I've got to keep working for the team.
"Hopefully, we can turn the performance around this week, because we left the field pretty embarrassed at the end of the Newcastle game. You don't go out there to lose by that score – you don't go out to lose at all."
Buchanan says the experience of playing with and against players he loved watching as a boy is going to take some getting used to.
"It's really weird," he said. "I grew up being a Bulldogs supporter, and here at the Tigers I've got Braith Anasta and Matt Utai as teammates. I remember watching them win the 2004 grand final with the Bulldogs, and to be here training and playing with them is an unbelievable experience.
"I've sort of gotten over that now, and while it's incredible to run out and play against big-name guys I've got a job to do for the team and I've got to concentrate on that."