IT’S a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And Jamie Buhrer is too much of a team man to even dream of complaining.
Week in, week out since the start of the season, Buhrer has warmed up with his Newcastle Knights teammates, then headed to his seat on the sideline as the 13 starting players take their positions on the field for kick-off.
Friday night’s clash with the Warriors will be Buhrer’s 17th game of the year, and on each occasion he has come off the bench as fresh reserve.
How much game time he will he receive, and what position he will play, is anyone’s guess.
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Not even Knights coach Nathan Brown knows how a match will unfold, and what dilemmas Buhrer will be required to solve.
“My role has been a utility role, obviously, and with that comes multiple positions, sometimes not many minutes, sometimes lots of minutes in positions I don’t normally find myself in,” Buhrer said.
“But it is the role I've been given in the team.
“We've got a deep squad at the moment, and if the utility role is one that Browny needs me to play, I'll play it.”
Buhrer’s contributions have ranged from 77 minutes against St George Illawarra, when he replaced injured Tautau Moga at centre, down to eight minutes against the Roosters in round 14.
He is averaging 42.5 minutes per game.
“It goes without saying I'd love more minutes … all I can do is just make sure that I'm continually ready and prepared, and a good chance to play more minutes and do the job for him,” he said.
When Buhrer arrived from Manly at the start of last season, he was entitled to feel confident about his prospects of featuring regularly in Newcastle’s first 13.
Of his 129 games with the Sea Eagles, which included the 2011 grand final win and 10 other play-offs, the last 37 were in their starting team.
Having played back row, lock, hooker, centre and five-eighth in first grade, Buhrer’s versatility makes him the ideal bench utility, and more than half of his career tally of 161 NRL games have been as fresh reserve.
His hopes of slotting into his preferred back-row role this year have been hindered by the outstanding form of Aidan Guerra, Mitch Barnett and Lachlan Fitzgibbon, who have played in 20, 18 and 18 games respectively.
"Our back-rowers, they're doing a pretty good job at the moment,” the 2012 NSW Origin representative said.
Off contract at the end of this season, the Hills District Bulls junior produced a polite sidestep this week when asked if negotiations with the Knights had progressed.
“I don't want to really talk too much about that,” he said.
“It's something I'll just really worry about with my manager and the club.”
But the father-of-four admitted recently Newcastle is “where I want to be” and that he was looking at each game as a chance to state his case for retention.
Still only 28, the man who started the season as Newcastle’s co-captain, alongside Mitchell Pearce, would appear to offer priceless experience in a young squad.
Of his teammates, only Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman, both of whom are retiring, Pearce, Guerra and winger Shaun Kenny-Dowall have more NRL appearances under their belts.
Having appeared in two grand finals with the Sea Eagles, he knows what it takes to become a successful club and believes Newcastle are headed in that direction, although they will need to reduce what he described as a “big gap” between their best and worst performances.
“We've got to start looking to put some things in motion for next year, build a bit of momentum, and at the same time finish off this year better,” he said.
“We've had a lot of near misses this year … it's important that we knuckle down, concentrate on these last four games and try and make an impact."
If the the utility role is one that Browny needs me to play, I'll play it. But it goes without saying I'd love more minutes.JAMIE BUHRER