He may already be a State of Origin representative for New South Wales but top of unassuming Sea Eagles forward Jamie Buhrer’s 2013 wish list is simply the desire to cement a spot in the 2011 premiers’ first grade side.
Buhrer, who played Origin I last year but was dumped from the remainder of the campaign after playing just seven minutes off the bench, knows he is in a running battle with new-recruit teammate Justin Horo to ‘own’ a spot in the second row following the departure of Tony Williams to Canterbury.
With lock Glenn Stewart injured and sidelined until Round 8, intriguingly both Buhrer and Horo find themselves in the run-on side, with Buhrer handed the task of filling in for Stewart at lock and wandering the unfamiliar right-hand side of the field, while Horo has been handed the ‘impact’ role outside five-eighth Kieran Foran on the left.
Judging by Buhrer’s no-frills yet comprehensive 80-minute involvement in Manly’s 22-14 win over the Broncos in their Round 1 clash – he made a game-high 19 runs for 133 metres plus 28 tackles, the sort of return teammate ‘Gifty’ Stewart would be satisfied with – the 23-year-old looks to have taken the edge in his battle with Horo.
The pair have the chance to further press their claims in front of coach Geoff Toovey when the Sea Eagles tackle the full-gallop Knights, who annihilated the Wests Tigers 42-10 last Monday night, at Brookvale Oval on Sunday night.
However, casting their personal duel to the side, utmost in their minds will be the plan to negate opposition duo Jeremy Smith (lock) and Beau Scott (second row), who will bring plenty of aggression to the contest.
After averaging just 44 minutes for the Sea Eagles in 2012 Buhrer admits the step up to playing from referee’s whistle to fulltime siren will be a challenge.
“I would love to be an 80-minute player but nothing is assured so to play some big minutes… if I am lucky enough to be playing 80 that’s what I’d love to do but at the end of the day whatever my job is with ‘Tooves’, I just go out and do my best,” he told NRL.com.
“I’d like to keep improving and help the team this year and around rep time, hopefully be in the discussions.”
Buhrer knows filling in for Stewart has handed him a golden opportunity to impress.
“With ‘Gifty’s’ injury it opens up the door for more minutes… it is not always the way you want it when you lose such a high-class player but that is how it has unfolded so I’ll look to take advantage of that and try to get some confidence up.”
Ironically, Buhrer singles out Horo as one of three players most likely to make names for themselves in the maroon and white in 2013.
“I think Justin Horo will be a force,” Buhrer admits. “And I think Richie Fa’aoso will have a big year – he is a big strong man… he has been to a few clubs but he is looking good.
“And of the younger fellas it wouldn’t surprise me to see probably Michael Chee Kam at some stage during the year – he is looking good as well.”
Buhrer expects his former left-edge partner in crime Kieran Foran to continue the good form that saw him win man of the match last week.
“He just had his tonsils out a couple of weeks ago, so that’s what he has come back from but you know he is probably the ‘oldest’ young man going around the NRL [a reference to Foran’s habitual limping on the field] – but when push comes to shove he puts his body on the line.”
Buhrer’s value to side extends to the backline, where the talented runner and ball-player could be called on to fill in should injury befall strike players Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai.
“Yep, I played in a number of positions during the pre-season so I can gradually get better if those boys are unlucky enough to go down,” he confirmed. “But fingers crossed they stay fit all year because they are big weapons for us.”
Meanwhile Horo says he is focused on dampening down the pressure of joining a recent premiership-winning team and limiting the mistakes that have occasionally dotted his game in the past.
“Yeah to a degree… this is a team that has won premierships and has a lot of experienced players so I know I have just got to do my job and if I do that to the best of my ability I think we are a good chance to go well,” he said.
“I think I am going to have to taper it down a little bit more, or I feel like I have to taper it down a little bit more – in past seasons at Parramatta we’d kind of been on the back foot and you get a little bit edgy and the play ends up getting away from the game plan.
“Over here there’s so many creative players, I feel I have just got to do the little things right and that will be the best thing for me, and that will be the best thing for my football for the year.”
Horo revealed coach Toovey’s plan to unleash him on the left side of the field was hatched during a well-rehearsed off-season.
“That is the way we have been training the whole pre-season,” he said. “I think they were kind of expecting ‘Gifty’ would be a bit 50-50 for the start of the season and it’s ended up that way.
“Jamie [Buhrer] is very versatile where he can play all over the place and the majority of my football has been on the left edge with Parramatta, so it’s been a nice fit for me.”
Still, linking with Stewart when he returns from injury is a focus.
“Yeah I’d love to keep my spot on the left edge… I have started to develop some good combinations with Kieran and Stevie [Matai], so I’d just like to hold that for the rest of the year.
“But I’d like to play with ‘Gifty’ as well – he is one of the players I have always enjoyed following, so I’d rather him being out on the field.”
Teammate Buhrer has a final message for Manly fans leading into the clash with the Knights: “Get out there! It is a Sunday night… I think unfortunately we don’t have as many Sunday games at Brookie as we would like, so hopefully the sun is still shining and it would be good to get 18,000 out there yelling and screaming.”