The NRL Telstra Premiership season may still be more than six weeks away, but Newcastle Knights recruit Jamie Buhrer is already shaping up as one of the more important purchases of 2017.
Only two months into his tenure at the club, the former Sea Eagles back-rower is already an integral member of Newcastle's peer-voted leadership group after receiving the most number of votes.
The significance of Buhrer's signing became even greater this week with veteran playmaker Jarrod Mullen's career hanging by a thread following a positive banned substance test.
Aside from Mullen, Knights skipper Trent Hodkinson is the only Newcastle player with more NRL experience than the premiership-winning, New South Wales origin representative Buhrer.
Fellow Manly alumni and Knights recruit Josh Starling compared the leadership qualities of Buhrer to those of former New South Wales and Australian star Glenn Stewart.
"Jamie's a natural leader. He's always been like that," Starling told NRL.com.
"Glenn Stewart was like how Buhrer is now. He always voiced his opinion to the coaches no matter what they may have thought about them.
"Jamie's the same. If he thinks something needs to be said, he'll say it. That's what the boys respect about him.
"He was voted into [the Knights'] leadership group straight away. For someone who has only been here for a couple of months that in itself is a massive achievement."
Buhrer said his newfound place in the Knights' leadership group was validation for his hard work over the pre-season.
"You don't walk into a leadership role regardless of where you come from or what you've done. It's about putting in the work and earning the respect of your teammates," Buhrer said.
"It's what I set about doing from the very start. I'm proud because it's been something I've embraced and I enjoy.
"One part of my role now is to empower some of the good young leaders we have so they can take some ownership of this team."
Consistency has been key to Buhrer's maturation over the past seven years.
The Hills District Bulls junior debuted during an era when the Sea Eagles were a dominant NRL force.
Glenn and Brett Stewart, Jamie Lyon, Matt Ballin, Jason King, Brent Kite and Anthony Watmough were among the players who Buhrer has drawn advice from throughout his career.
Now the 27-year-old is keen to impart his wisdom onto his young Knights teammates in what he described as a "reinvigorating" time for his 128-game career.
"I'm at that point now where it's important to find my voice when I need to within this team. At this point it comes naturally but it's not something I've always had the ability to do," Buhrer told NRL.com.
"While I wouldn't put myself in the same category as Glenn Stewart or Anthony Watmough, it's now my turn to help these boys out where I can.
"I think I have seven or eight 21st's to go to this year too which will be pretty different," he added with a laugh.
Buhrer may have been restricted to just 22 games over the past two years – following consecutive ACL injuries, a broken thumb and a broken jaw – but it didn't prevent him from hitting peak form late last season.
"Being able to come back fit last year and play some really good football, it did a lot for my confidence," he said.
"I needed to prove that my previous injuries hadn't dampened my ability which is something I'll take into this year."