Greg Bird is confident he will take his place for the Titans at the Auckland Nines. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
He may have played 30 games of high quality rugby league across 294 days in 2013 but Titans co-captain Greg Bird insists he feels fresher than at the same time 12 months ago.
Bird made his long-awaited arrival at Titans pre-season training on Monday but is unable to compete in contact sessions yet as he recovers from elbow surgery.
Following the shock departure of captain Scott Prince in the early days of the 2013 pre-season, Bird and Nate Myles were called back early from holidays by coach John Cartwright to preside over the NRL squad as co-captains so the rugged back-rower has been grateful for the extra time off following the World Cup.
"We had a little bit less time off last year with a few of the dramas that went on in the off-season with the change of captaincy and 'Carty' wanted all the players on board," Bird explained.
"After the Test [in 2012] I only had a few weeks off and came back into it so it's actually good to have the six weeks this year and really freshen up over the Christmas break and a couple of weeks now.
"The main goal now is to get back up to where these boys are. They've been flat-stick since November so I've got my work ahead of me but I'm confident come the first game I have to play – whether it be a trial or the Nines tournament – I'll be back up with them."
Although he has been away from Titans HQ for the past six weeks, Bird has been utilised as one of the poster boys for the Dick Smith NRL Auckland Nines that kick-off on February 14 and is now in a race against time to be fit for the tournament.
He has attended the launch of the trophy, ridden a Harley-Davidson motorcycle around Auckland and even sailed on Auckland's Waitamata Harbour and remains confident that the injury that hampered him for much of 2013 will have recovered in time to take his place in the Titans squad.
"I've had my six weeks off and feeling good really. Other than the recovery from the elbow the body feels good, mind feels good and I'm ready to get back amongst it again," Bird said.
"There is still four weeks of recovery before the Nines so I'm sure if I stay away from the contact for another couple of weeks I'll be fine to play."
While conjecture in 2013 centred on whether NRL players had been injected with substances, Bird spent more than half of the season having fluid removed from his body.
With each knock his elbow took bone fragments lodged in the bursa in the joint caused further inflammation and fluid had to be drained from the area after each game.
It's a further measure of the toughness of the man whose season started with the Indigenous All Stars game on February 9 and didn't finish until the World Cup Final on November 30.
"I did it halfway through the year and battled with it all season so I was very happy to finally get it sorted after the world Cup," the 29-year-old said.
"It was difficult. It didn't really affect strength in the elbow so I couldn't really not play; it was just all the impact, which is hard to stay away from, that's the nature of our sport.
"It was just a fact of life for last season but hopefully that's behind me."
Despite the Titans' loss of strike centre Jamal Idris while he was enjoying his break, Bird believes the side is well positioned to continue the good work from late in the 2013 season and be a genuine finals contender this year.
"I think we're in a very similar position. We had a lot of young blokes last year and I think those young guys, especially in the halves, gained a lot of experience out of that season so hopefully they can take more of a leadership role in the halves now," he said.
"We gained a lot of confidence from the back-end of our year. Dave Taylor and Ryan James came out and played probably the best footy of their careers the last two or three games. We knocked off the premiers and nearly knocked off the Storm down there and knocked over the Dogs. So there are a lot of positives we can take out of the back-end of the season and we need to start off on the same foot that we finished."