By STEVE MASCORD
FORMER Test and Origin team-mates Jason Ryles and Danny Buderus admit the threat of football oblivion hangs heavily over them going into the second preliminary semi-final at AAMI Park.
One of the pair will walk off late Saturday with his NRL career over following the sudden death clash. Another retiring star whose career dates back to the Super League War, Storm five-eighth Brett Finch, has been declared fit but may not play.
“I was training out there today, thinking it could be my last session,” Buderus, 35, told reporters on match eve.
“But I don’t want to think that way. I’m just very happy to be part of September. It’s a bit of a bonus.”
The hands of time are also moving for Knights veterans Willie Mason and Craig Gower. Utility Gower did not make the trip south after having neck surgery only two weeks ago, while Mason will clock up 250 games. Both plan to play on, however.
“You never know now. It’s sudden death. The Knights are a quality team and if we’re not on our game then it could well be our last game,” said Ryles, 34.
“It’s always in the back of your mind.
“I’ve been thinking of it since my early 20s because you never know when it’s going to end. I’ve been lucky to do something I haven’t called a job, personally.
“It’s something I would have done every week, even if I did have a real job.”
Having missed the 2012 grand final through injury, that spectre is every bit as menacing as retirement for Ryles, who played 12 Tests for Australia
“That’s footy and part of footy is you get injuries and the timing of the injuries is not always ideal,” he said.
Storm head trainer Tony Ayoub told Fairfax Media that Finch, who has battled shoulder and sternum injuries for the past fortnight, had done everything asked of him this week and was available for selection.
But England international Widdop, who last week returned from a dislocated hip, is regarded as favourite to take on the Knights.
Ryles said: “They’ve both trained. They’ve both swapped in and trained with the first team.
“Gaz brings the youth and he’s won a premiership last year. Finchy’s got a lot of experience and he adds another dimension to the team.”
Melbourne are shooting for an eighth consecutive win over Newcastle, who have not made it as far as week three of the finals for 12 years. The Storm have only lost nine of 49 games at AAMI Park.
Buderus, however, spoke glowingly about the input of veteran coach Wayne Bennett to the club’s finals campaign.
“Wayne’s been great in September,” Buderus said. “He’s a completely different coach this time of year. He’s been building towards this. For 18 months he’s been in Newcastle now, instilling a bit of faith and routine into this group. He’s getting the fruits of that now.
“He loves the game, loves the challenge and the competition. We’re feeding off that. He’s our leader and he’s Wayne Bennett, he’s won a lot of premierships. He knows what he’s doing.
“Last year wasn’t a good year for us and it got built up that it probably wasn’t going to be a good year and we fell a bit flat.”
Buderus dismissed suggestions of enmity arising from the last clash between the clubs, after which Bennett accused the Storm of deliberately conceding penalties when under pressure.
“They’re just the ultimate competitors and they just play the game at a level we want to get to,” he said. “I think every team aspires to get as competitive as Melbourne.”
Ryles described his opponents as “battle-hardened footballers”.
Filed for: THE AGE