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Legend Q&A: Jamie Buhrer

It could easily be considered as one of the coldest acts by a coach but such was the strength of Manly's team in 2010, Jamie Buhrer had to wait 210 minutes to make his NRL debut after two false starts and three half-time talks from Des Hasler. 

Buhrer's tough initiation to first grade built him into the player he turned out to be - under-rated and reliable - while for many Sea Eagles fans they saw a glimmer of Steve Menzies about his versatility. caught up with recently retired Buhrer to see what's he's been up to since calling it quits last season and how he reflects on a decade-long career in the Telstra Premiership. 

Legend Q&A: Jamie Buhrer 

You grew up in Parramatta territory so who got you to the Northern Beaches early on in your career?

I grew up a Manly fan so it didn't take much convincing to make the move when I was given the opportunity to go. David Warwick worked with Noel Cleal in recruitment at the time and came and watched a few of my games and said he was keen for me to move to Manly. It was a pretty easy decision in the end.

Coincidentally, your NRL debut ended up being against the Eels in 2010, what do you remember about that game?

I'd actually been named to debut two games prior to come off the bench but Dessie never got me on either time so it was my third time lucky to get on the field against Parramatta. I sat on the bench against Melbourne and then the Titans but never got onto the paddock.

It got to the 50th minute in this game and at half-time I was thinking far out he's not going to get me on again. I had a chat to him at the break and he said I'll come on at the 50th minute and that's what happened.

It was at Brookvale Oval, playing for the team I supported growing up, so it was very special to debut in front of my parents who’d sacrificed so much, as well as my family and friends.

What about the Steve ‘Beaver’ Menzies comparisons – was it flattering or did it bring added pressure given his stature in the game?

I think it was just because I wore a headgear and played in the back row because he’s a lot taller and was a bit faster than I was. To be fair he was someone I grew up idolising so I never thought of it as any added pressure, but instead a compliment.

I just wanted to go out there rip in every week and so I didn’t get too caught up in comparisons. I will say it was flattering to be likened to Beaver.

We all know what happened 12 months later with the premiership victory in 2011, how special was that to achieve early on in your career?

It's not until you get to the end of your career that you reflect and appreciate how special it is to achieve that. The same can be said for the team in which I did it with. To win the comp alongside some of my best mates, blokes I’d come through through the Manly system with was special.

Jamie Buhrer with the premiership trophy after the 2011 grand final.
Jamie Buhrer with the premiership trophy after the 2011 grand final. ©NRL Photos

To also win the premiership with players I had admired and respected long before I pulled on a Manly jersey made it that much sweeter. It's surreal to have achieved that early in my career.

I remember being on the bench as the siren sounded and turning to big George Rose and going to give him a big hug and he almost broke my back.

You had a special team during that period … 

While we had special players, it was things that happened off the field that made us so special. We really enjoyed each other's company. We ripped in at training, ripped in on the field and made sure we had a good time together off it.

I played another eight years after that and you don't realise just how special a team that we had at that time until you’ve got time to reflect. We had some of the best players in their positions with Jamie Lyon and Steve Matai in the centres.

You had Choc Watmough and Glenn Stewart with Brett at the back. Kieran Foran and Daly [Cherry-Evans] have gone onto forge fantastic careers on the back of that. I could go on and name plenty of the rest with Wolfman and Tony Williams … Vic Mauro had a ripping game in that grand final that also went unheralded.

A look back at the 2011 Grand Final

And we hate to bring it up, but you’ve been on the other side of it with the 2013 grand final loss to the Roosters – does it still sting?

It was awful and certainly does still sting. The thing about that year was we had some absolute epic battles with the Roosters. They had the wood over us throughout the whole season but each battle we gave as good as we got. They were always just that little bit better.

A lot of the guys from the 2011 group were still in it but even to this day around grand final time we still talk about it as the one that got away. We never thought we had it in the bag but felt like we were playing some good footy.

With about 15 minutes to go I thought if we kept ripping in we were going to get the win. But they turned it around with some spectacular tries … Jenko's [Michael Jennings] one in particular just sparked them and we couldn't peg them back. They were worthy winners but it still hurts.

Talk us through those clashes with Melbourne as you were coming through – the rivalry looked intense – is that how it really was?

I was part of a few heated clashes but that rivalry really kicked off on the back of the '07 and '08 grand finals. Being on the opposite side of the fence losing a grand final it just flared it.

By the time I debuted in 2010 that rivalry was well and truly in all its glory. We just hated losing to one and other. Melbourne had a certain physicality about them especially around the wrestle, while we had an aggressive in your face style of play that ensured there was always feeling in every contest.

There was certainly a healthy respect there as well. I might've jumped in towards the end of it but it was a game I certainly enjoyed being a part of.

The NSW Blues line up for the first Origin of the 2012 series.
The NSW Blues line up for the first Origin of the 2012 series. ©NRL Photos

You became a talking point in 2012 after recording just seven minutes off the bench for NSW in Origin I and it went on to be your only appearance in sky blue – what were your emotions around all that and how do you reflect on it now?

It was an emotional rollercoaster. I'd had a good couple of seasons and was picked off the back of some good footy. I'd played a bit of hooker throughout that season and was picked as the utility to spell Robbie Farah if he blew out or if any of our back-rowers needed a break.

It turned out that Farah and our big men rolled out some big minutes so I was grateful to Ricky that he got me on.

I wasn’t really surprised when Ricky called me to say I wasn't in the 17 for game two. I'm not going to lie I would've liked a few more minutes or another game, but I got on the field so for that I'm grateful.

I got on the field so for that I'm grateful.

Jamie Buhrer

It is something I’ll always be proud to have achieved because as a kid I used to settle into the loungeroom at home with Mum, Dad and my brothers, order pizzas and enjoy Origin on Wednesday nights and I do the same thing with my kids now. To be able to run out and represent NSW and my family is something that can't be taken away.

You were part of a swap deal between the Knights and Sea Eagles that involved Akuila Uate in 2017, how hard was it to leave Manly after seven seasons?

It was incredibly difficult, just with the attachment I had for Manly. My wife being a Northern Beaches girl with family here, the friendships that I'd forged. We had two young children as well.

There were so many factors that had to be weighed up. In the end it was the best decision for me with all the cards on the table.

If I didn't have a young family to support I would've backed myself to go out and prove certain people wrong and play out that final year. But if I wasn't afforded that opportunity in the top grade then it could've hurt long term and been my final year altogether.

Newcastle was an opportunity to test myself in a new environment. Nathan Brown and Darren Mooney had a vision for how they could see me coming up and helping the squad. They sold me on the rebuild and how I can assist in doing that. I'm grateful I decided to make the move.

And what about the Knights, it must’ve felt nice to help get them back on track as a squad after a few years of struggle?

I remember we beat the Titans in round two during my first year and it was the first win the club had had in at home in a long time.

To be a part of that and to see the emotion from the players, staff and fans really epitomised how much rugby league means to the region – I really appreciated the fan base, they love and support the club through the good and the bad so it was great to be a part of that.

Knights forward Jamie Buhrer during his final season in 2019.
Knights forward Jamie Buhrer during his final season in 2019. ©NRL Photos

They were a terrific bunch of fellas and I've made friends who I'll love for a long time. It was a challenge I'm glad I took on. We didn't achieve everything we wanted to when I got there.

We didn't automatically become successful as I would've liked, but I'm most proud of being able to mentor and assist in the culture change at the club.

I feel like they're trending towards success and I feel I left the club in a better way from when I first got there.

Your retirement at the end of 2019 caught everyone off guard – what happened towards the end there?

I started to think about it halfway through last year. I was in and out of first grade and played a lot of NSW Cup, which I enjoyed. We had a fantastic group that was young and hungry and Rory [Kostjasyn] as head coach, but putting my body through intense preparation, which I take really seriously became a chore.

It became hard to enjoy the grind that I had fallen in love with years before.

Jamie Buhrer

It was consuming going back and forth and to not be playing first grade at this point in my career it became hard to enjoy the grind that I had fallen in love with years before. I no longer had the drive to continue and fight on for another year.

Overseas was an option and that would’ve excited me years ago, but with four young children now and a wife I lost that desire. If I no longer had the desire I couldn’t see the point in playing on for a pay cheque as this would’ve been of no benefit to anyone.

What are you up to these days post retirement and how have you found the transition?

I'm working at the RLPA as a player operations manager which involves assisting players and their engagement. It's a job that aligned well with who I am and the role I have played within sporting teams in the past.

It's a good transition that enables me to stay involved in rugby league and utilise relationships I have built within the game. I'm fortunate to have made smart decisions financially over the years and we’ve recently moved back to the Northern Beaches where I’ve got plenty of family and friends I care about and I’ve still got a job during this difficult time for the community.

So I’ve got plenty to be grateful for that has and will assist my transition. I do miss the footy aspect but I’ve signed up with Belrose Eagles in the Sydney Shield competition which hasn't been cancelled yet.

It's something I've enjoyed being a part of and fingers crossed, just like the NRL we can get these games back on.