This time last year Jamie Buhrer was preparing to make his State of Origin debut; now he simply wants to prove himself again.
Originally pegged to take over from former teammate Tony Williams in the Manly starting side this season before a serious knee injury in the pre-season saw new arrival Justin Horo steal that prize from under him, Buhrer has instead been forced to bide his time on the bench due to the club’s gluttony of back-row riches.
The setback has also ruined any chance of the 23-year-old winning another shot in a NSW jersey this season after he was a surprise selection for the Blues in Game I last year.
But as the Sea Eagles look to put the disappointment of Monday’s controversial 10-all draw with Melbourne behind them when they host Canberra this Sunday, Buhrer is adamant that he is slowly starting to find his feet again.
“I probably haven’t played my best footy this year but it’s slowly coming along and improving,” Buhrer told NRL.com. “I had a pretty tough pre-season with a grade three medial tear so I missed at least half the pre-season but that’s not to blame for my form. It was more of a confidence thing and I’ve got my confidence in my knee back now, so now I just try and put my best foot forward for the boys.
“The disappointing part for me was that I wasn’t able to go out there and fight for [my position] as such, but these things happen in footy. Injuries are a part of footy and Justin has done an awesome job there to this point. I’ve still got a role to play in this team and I’ll continue to do that.
“The only thing is that it’s hard to define a role for me off the bench at the moment but I’m just looking to take whatever minutes I get and do my best for the team.”
Averaging just 40.3 minutes per game this season, Buhrer said he hadn’t spoken to Blues coach Laurie Daley since a brief get-together with the extended squad over Christmas, but added: “I don’t really expect to either. It’s more… you just worry about doing the right thing on the field, get selected and then be a part of the team atmosphere. It’s not something I expected and I’m not worried about it.
“Obviously my form definitely doesn’t warrant selection there this year but at some stage it’s something I would like to do again – it’s something you want to be a part of all the time. It’s such a great atmosphere and arena to play on so it’s definitely something I’ll be looking to get myself back in at some stage.”
While Buhrer has questioned his own form this season, he insists the Sea Eagles remain quietly confident in their progress in 2013 following another phenomenal defensive performance against the Storm last week.
While the Sydney Roosters have received deserved plaudits for their league-best defence this year, Manly isn’t far behind having conceded just 118 points in 10 outings.
Buhrer credits the extra defensive work the Sea Eagles did in the pre-season for their resolute performances this season.
“There was a lot more emphasis on defence,” he stressed. “We had a few more training sessions on defence and the sessions themselves were a lot more physical than they have been in previous seasons. And just our mind-set – I’ve been a part of this club since 2008 and it’s always been a pretty defence-minded club so it was just a matter of getting back to that focus and changing a few things technically with Brad Arthur (assistant coach). There wasn’t much to change, just a few things that he wanted to implement and he has done that.
“It’s something we pride ourselves on and anyone that comes and steps in gets caught up in that. It’s an infectious atmosphere where you just have to go in there and be aggressive and you don’t want to let anyone down. We’re reaping the rewards at the moment.”
While Manly is now yet to win any of their games against the three sides above them on the table this season following losses to Souths and the Roosters and the draw with Melbourne, Buhrer said they had taken plenty from their efforts.
“We’re quietly confident,” he said. “Obviously we didn’t get a win in all three but we were well and truly in each contest and we’d like to think if a few things had gone our way the results could have been different. We’ve got some talent to come back later in the year, so I think we’re building nicely.”