It’s hard to believe that Jamie Buhrer, at 24, has already played for both City and NSW, won a grand final and is within reach of the J.J. Giltinan Shield. Along the way the Hills District junior has clocked up 103 first grade games, a milestone he’s achieved by staying injury free and playing consistent football. So consistent in fact, that he’s played all but four games since round 25, 2010.
His opposite number on Sunday afternoon, Greg Bird, rose in similar fashion, debuting for Country, NSW and Australia in 2007 at age 23. The Titans lock is in reach of his own milestone as he prepares for his 198th NRL game. He would have reached 200 sooner if not for a string of injuries and suspensions.
With Glenn Stewart missing for most of the season, baby-faced Buhrer has had big shoes to fill. As opposed to Stewart’s unique ball-playing style, he is more a jinking ball-runner at lock but has proved his value as a utility, covering centre, five-eighth and second row in his blossoming career.
Comparing home with away form, he averages considerably more metres at opposition grounds (101.6) than he does at Brookvale (89.9). Overall this year he is averaging 95.2 metres, compared with 83.4 in 2013. He is also averaging significantly more tackles than last season (27.3 v 20.6), a role he seems to relish in the middle of the park.
In a worrying sign for this encounter, Bird’s home and away form are at stark odds. At Robina, he averages fewer tackles (20.1 v 24.4), more missed tackles (3.6 v 3), fewer offloads (1.3 v 2.6), and fewer metres (111.9 v 120.9). A foot injury suffered in the ANZAC Test is surely a factor in his average metres dropping from 132.7 in last season to 116.4 in 2014. Despite this, the Maitland junior averages more metres than all Titans forwards except Dave Taylor.
Bird’s record against Manly is among his best, with eight wins in 13 clashes since 2003. Now the Titans co-captain, he has developed into a leader at club, state and international level. What makes this so? The 30-year-old is as tough as nails, possesses a footballing brain, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. In fact, that’s what fuels him.
He’s even won a professional boxing match, but Buhrer can hold his own as a karate black belt. So just who will emerge victorious on Sunday? Let’s get ready to rumble...