Buderus to serve it up for Old Boys
Danny Buderus is in the twilight zone right now. He doesn't know when his last game of football is going to be.
But the veteran hooker is OK with that. He thought his time with his beloved Knights was over at the end of the 2008 season, when he left the club to play with Leeds in England, and these last two years with the Knights have been a bonus for him.
The seventh-placed Knights play guaranteed wooden spooners Parramatta at Hunter Stadium on Sunday. It is Old Boys' Day, the last home game of the year, when former Knights players come to the ground to honour the current team and are honoured themselves.
It's a fantastic tradition for the working-class town that loves its team so much.
The Knights, on 27 competition points, can't finish any higher than seventh regardless of the result against the Eels, but they may end up needing to win this game to make the finals. They will know for sure where they stand after Saturday night.
The eighth-, ninth- and 10th-placed teams – the Cowboys, Titans and Warriors – are all on 26 points and all play on Saturday. If two of those three win, the Knights will have to beat the Eels to get through.
But it's a game of footy, so the Knights are going to want to win regardless of the machinations, and they would know that if they can't beat the Eels at home then they don't deserve to be in the finals anyway.
Buderus is fairly relaxed in the lead-up to Sunday's game, but he knows that whenever it finally is all over, the emotion will flood to the surface.
He is obviously hoping his last game won't come until deep into the finals – maybe even on grand final day, with a win. What a way to go out that would be.
"It is a bit strange when you don't know when your last game will be, but I feel like I said my goodbyes back in 2008," Buderus told NRL.com. "I went through all of that period before I left for England, and now I'm just looking to celebrate every game I play.
"I'm really enjoying the dressing room and taking nothing for granted when it comes to what this great game gives me, week in and week out. When it comes to the last game I'll no doubt be emotional in some way, but I'll be excited about the next chapter in my life as well."
The good thing about this time around is that Buderus will be able to farewell Knights fans on his terms. Touch wood.
In 2008, he ruptured a biceps three rounds out from the end of the regular season and didn't play again that year.
He was a part of the parade on Old Boys' Day, along with the other former Knights greats.
"Definitely, I thought that was it," Buderus said. "I thought I'd go over to England for a couple of years and that would be it, but five years later I'm still playing.
"This is the cream, now, to be a part of the new direction the club is taking. It's an unexpected bonus to still be playing here now, that's the way I'm seeing it.
"Especially since I've been out injured a couple of times this year but I'm still here playing at the end. It's great to be able to finish off my career at my home-town club.
"I remember when I got injured in 2008, I was really emotional, thinking 'that's my last game for the Knights', because I knew I was out for six months with my injury. But I'm more than ready to finish on a good note this time, and then move on to the next part of my life."
Buderus' English stint stretched out to three years, but Knights coach Wayne Bennett saw value in bringing him back to the club at 33.
Now, at 35, the end is nigh, but despite his own injury problems in the latter stages of his career Buderus is still standing when the Knights otherwise have a hooker shortage due to injuries to Kurt Gidley and Craig Gower, and Buderus will be expected to play a lot of minutes against the Eels.
Back in 1997, Buderus made his first-grade debut six weeks after his 19th birthday. He came off the bench for the Knights as they thrashed the South Queensland Crushers 44-0 in Round 3 at home.
It was the only appearance Buderus made in first grade all season. The Knights knew they were developing a potential star, a former halfback they were turning into a hooker, and they put him back away in reserve grade so he could keep learning.
Buderus started playing regularly in first grade in 1998.
Former Knights star Marc Glanville, who retired at the end of the club's premiership-winning 1997 season, was in that team alongside fresh-faced rookie Buderus against the Crushers, and recalls a kid who was already showing the toughness for which he became renowned.
"He was a good kid, with plenty of enthusiasm," Glanville said. "I think he was a bit overawed coming on that day, being so young, but watching him in reserve grade that year it was obvious he had plenty of 'ticker' and would make a good fist of hooker.
"He really took to the challenge of playing in that position. There was nothing of him then –there's not a whole lot more of him now – but he could tackle, and he would put his body on the line and smash blokes. It was pretty clear the club had a potential star."
Buderus went on to play 21 State of Origin games for NSW and captain the Blues. He also represented Australia in 24 Tests.
The end is not far off now, but Buderus is a planner. He has been preparing for that.
"A wise man once told me that when you retire you've got to have something to retire to," Buderus said.
"At the Knights I've got a role at the moment besides playing, floating around and doing a few things, and I can see a few building blocks there that I can go on from, within the organisation. It's going to be good to still be involved."
Any chance we will see Buderus go down the coaching path?
"I'll have a bit of a look at it, but as you've seen recently it's a volatile industry, that one, and it's not for everyone," he said. "I've got an interest in the juniors coming through, having a pathway for the young kids to be future first-graders. I think a role like that has got a bit more stability.
"Mentoring and preparing people, on and off the field... I like the idea of that. There's the high performance unit here that I have a little bit to do with already, and there's a really good bunch of kids coming through, with a lot of skill.
"So there is certainly a bit there that I can do for the club."