I spoke to Danny Buderus for League Express during the 2010 season shortly after he committed to the club for a further year. The season ended disappointingly for the former Australian hooker with Leeds soundly beaten by Warrington in the Challenge Cup final and knocked out of the play-offs before the Grand Final.
Name: Danny Buderus
Club: Leeds Rhinos
Previous Club: Newcastle Knights
Representative: New South Wales (21 games), Australia (25 Tests)
First professional game: 1997
Honours: NRL Premiership (2001), State of Origin series winner (2003, 2004 & 2005), Ashes series winner (2001 & 2003), Tri-Nations winner (2004), Super League winner (2009)
DANNY Buderus was one of seven Leeds Rhinos players who penned a contract extension last week – a one-year deal that is likely to be the last one he will sign in an illustrious professional career that began in 1997 under the tutelage of British coaching legend Malcolm Reilly.
Today the 32-year-old Buderus is a key member of a Leeds squad searching for their fourth-straight league title and their first Challenge Cup success since 1999. But he hasn’t had an easy first 18 months in West Yorkshire with a broken leg last year and speculation that he could return to Newcastle Knights putting him in a pensive mood.
“It’s been tough at times,” he admits. “I did my autobiography last year and that makes you look back a lot. I was injured at the time, which wasn’t fun at all. The Knights, who I love so dearly, were struggling back home, so you wonder if you’ve done the right thing. But I finished the book and moved on. It gave me a chance to refresh and I’m fully fit and focused again.”
Buderus also admits to feeling awkward at being awarded the number-nine squad number which had previously been occupied by the club’s long-serving hooker, Matt Diskin.
“It was a bit tough and uncomfortable at first,” he says. “I didn’t realise squad numbers were such a big thing over here and I’d have happily taken any other number because Matt’s been at the club for a long time. It took a lot of getting used to. But it’s about what’s best for the Rhinos and that’s where we’re both at, at the moment.”
With a third of a difficult, injury-hit season left, the Rhinos are breathing down the necks of the league leaders and a dramatic, last-gasp win over Wigan saw them move into the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, where they will face St Helens in August.
“It was a dream of a win because it looked like we were gone, but it’s a shame we couldn’t play the semi-final a bit sooner because we were all on a bit of a high,” he says. “Instead it’s a two-and-a-half month wait until the semi-final. We’ve spoken about the importance of the Challenge Cup but then you have to put it at the back of your thoughts. It’s a burning ambition but you can’t waste energy thinking about it.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries – the boys can’t remember a year like it – and a lot of youngsters have been blooded. It’s great for the club that can happen, but when the whip is cracked – which is around now – you have to adopt the right mentality and perform.
“It felt right to re-sign with Leeds. I didn’t want to retire because I felt I had a few more years in me.”
Buderus first came to prominence when he was called into the then-unbeaten Australian Combined High Schools’ squad to tour England in 1995. He was recently named in an all-time Australian Schools’ XVII, alongside names like Brad Fittler, Bradley Clyde and Greg Inglis.
“That was a massive thing, making that tour. I’d moved away from home at 16 to make it in Rugby League so making that team was a bit of a reward for doing that.
“I toured with Matthew Gidley, Trent Barrett, Nathan Cayless, Dennis Moran, Shane Walker as well as Owen Craigie and Royston Lightning who were schoolboy sensations. I roomed with Nathan and it was great to be involved in something like that.”
Back in Australia, Buderus broke into the Knights’ first team in 1997 – the year they went on to beat Manly in what is often regarded as the best-ever Grand Final. Buderus only made one mid-season appearance off the bench but remembers only too well the impact the final had on him.
“I saw the way the town reacted to the win and it was something I just wanted to emulate over and over again,” he says. “I played quite a lot in 1998, in a few different positions too. You get moved around when you’re a kid but it’s not a bad thing. When Mal arrived, I thought it was great because he sent everybody at the club a letter saying what he expected from us. He’d come up to you in the gym and challenge you on a particular machine and he’d go as hard as he could.
“He was an unbeaten champ at arm-wrestling and at one pool session he challenged the lads to swim 50 metres under water. No-one got anywhere near it but Mal stripped off, borrowed Matty Johns’s swimmers and he did it. It wasn’t easy though – his head looked like it was going to blow up. He also challenged Steve Crowe, one of the players, to a fight in the boxing ring which was sensational. It went way beyond boxing and we had to step in and call it a draw!”
After establishing himself in the Knights’ team, representative honours followed in 2001, with a call-up to the mid-season Test against Australia, followed by a place on a Kangaroos Tour to Britain which saw Australia regain the Ashes. One of the highlights of the series was a huge third-Test fight, involving the two front rows – with the British pack including Barrie McDermott, who still works for the Rhinos, up against Buderus.
“We had a tough start and we knew we had to play well to beat Great Britain. We lost the first but turned it round. I was in the middle of that fight with Barrie coming after me! I stepped back and closed the curtain as I used to call it – standing back with the props in front of me! It was brutal and the crowd were baying for blood, but it was a fantastic experience.”
Buderus toured Great Britain again in 2003, taking part in his second Ashes series – one that Australia won 3-0, courtesy of late scores in each game. The series is best remembered for Adrian Morley’s sending off right at the start of the first game for a high tackle on Robbie Kearns.
“We knew a big onslaught was coming right from the start – we were a young team and Great Britain wanted to intimidate us. We won the three games late on which was harsh on Great Britain because they were a good side, but we had the State of Origin mentality which got us through.”
Buderus’s Origin career saw him play in all 21 games between 2002 and 2008, captaining the side in the last 15.
“Origin is something you think you’ll never do as a kid. Then it gets within your grasp and you never want to let it go. [Coach] Gus Gould taught me a lot about Origin – the mentality and how it’s different to the club game. We dominated for a few years then we lost Andrew Johns and were up against a couple of once-in-a-lifetime players in the Queensland team. 2006 went down to the wire with that bad pass at the end of the third game losing it for us and we’ve lost every series since.”
At club level, the Knights emulated their 1997 side by winning another Premiership four years later, beating a Parramatta side who had dominated the whole year in the final, after an comprehensive first-half display.
“Parramatta were phenomenal right through the year and people didn’t give us much of a chance as a result,” Buderus remembers. “We were also the worst defensive team in the top eight, but we had a lot of big-name players like Ben Kennedy, Matt Gidley, Timana Tahu, Robbie O’Davis and, of course, Andrew Johns. The first half of the Grand Final was fantastic – we completed 24 out of 25 sets. At 24-0, we just had to hold on and we did.”
Buderus didn’t win another Premiership but feels that he should have bagged at least one more. The next three seasons ended with Johns picking up season-ending injuries late in the year, with the Knights unable to win without him.
“You look back and think thank God you won one, but from 2002 to 2004 we should have won at least another. We had the team to do it and the right man at the helm in Michael Hagan.”
From 2005 the Knights struggled, finishing in the play-offs only once in Buderus’s last four years at the club – twice they finished in the bottom two – and after 12 years in the first team, Buderus finally chose to move on.
“My time was up at Newcastle to move on – I’d been there for 15 years. The club was moving in another direction, but it was still a tough decision to leave.
“When I looked at Leeds, it was a privilege to be joining such a good team and it was a great chance to bring my family over and see what England has to offer.”