Knights hooker Danny Buderus's exit from the playing arena didn't go according to plan, but he got the farewell he deserved yesterday, writes Greg Prichard.
Most of us would know why league has collected one of its worst black eyes this week. If you don't, Google the name Greg Bird. But the game does have a way of bouncing back - in this case, through the celebration yesterday of the career of Danny Buderus.
Wests Leagues in Newcastle was the venue for a gathering of some of the game's greats. Andrew Johns was there. So was Wally Lewis. Phil Gould, who rarely attends functions, gave the signature speech. And it was all for Buderus, the departing Newcastle hooker.
In a week during which Cronulla star Bird had forfeited his right to play, Buderus was robbed of his by an arm injury suffered in last weekend's win over North Queensland. He has played his last game for the Knights, as he is leaving at the end of the season to finish his career with Leeds, in England.
Yesterday's tribute lunch had been arranged well before his career took this unfortunate turn, but there was no threat of it becoming the league equivalent of a wake for Buderus. It was always going to be a celebration. Four and a half hours of it, to be exact.
It was a bit like a This Is Your Life format. There was a lounge on stage and Buderus was joined by an endless stream of guests. Family, friends, junior coaches, former Knights coach Michael Hagan, current coach Brian Smith, former NSW teammate Craig Fitzgibbon, ex-Knights teammate Johns, his boyhood idol, "King" Wally
The list went on, and the later in the day it went, the more revealing, risque and hilarious the speeches became. But, first, let us focus on what Gould had to say. "Gus" has his critics in the often bitchy world of league, but the bloke can command a room.
When you hear him talk, you realise why he could, as NSW coach, pull a bunch of players from different clubs together well enough to become the most successful coach in State of Origin history. Gould perfectly summed up the qualities that made Buderus such a tremendous competitor.
It is only an occasion of this magnitude that could bring two people like Hagan and Smith together on the same stage. When you have coached against each other in a grand final, and subsequently swapped clubs, there is going to be feeling there.
The tributes were top shelf. Gould described Buderus as "the best hooker-forward I've seen play the game". Smith described him as one of the greatest players of all time. Lewis said "league has been very lucky to have him play the game".
Johns and Mark Hughes, who also played alongside Buderus for many years, took care of the madness. They came up on stage in the suits they wore as groomsmen for their mate's wedding. And it didn't take long for the stories to come out - two of the best involving John Laws and Kerry Packer.
Johns was attending the 60th birthday party of his manager, John Fordham, and brought Buderus and Hughes with him. The three Knights were coming off a big night, and, as Johns told it, Buderus decided to take a shot at fellow guest and legendary radio broadcaster Laws, over his hair.
Johns recalled: "Bedsy said: 'What's going on with your hair, Lawsy?' Then he had another go, and said: 'Hey, skunk hair, what's going on with your hair?' Then he started pulling on it."
Johns recalled that Laws took it well, and got square by drinking Buderus under the table on Wild Turkey bourbon.
"Bedsy stayed at my place that night," Johns said. "The next day, he said to me: 'Hey, mate, did we go to Sydney yesterday?"'
And the late media magnate, Packer?
"We were at a sponsors' dinner during a State of Origin camp," Johns said. "Kerry asked: 'Why are there so many injuries these days? How do we stop the injuries?' Danny said to him: 'There's too many games'. Kerry said: 'I'll ask you again, how do we stop it?' Danny said, again: 'We play too many games'.
"I said to Danny: 'Mate, this bloke controls the game on TV. He'd have it on all year, if he could.' Kerry came back to him: 'I'll ask you again.' This time, Danny said: 'Outlaw gang tackles'."
The function ended with Buderus, Johns, Lewis and another Knights great, Paul Harragon, on stage together, as Buderus was presented with a pair of his boots, which had been bronzed and encased in glass.
Asked how he felt, Buderus replied: "It's overwhelming. I'm swept off my feet."
The other matter, which has grabbed a clutch of ugly headlines, will take its course.
This was a fitting recognition of a fine career, and, as such, something special.