Old boys club prolongs Bird's career
It's hardly the height of French cuisine but when he spent a season playing in the English Super League with the Catalans Dragons during his 12-month exile from the NRL, Greg Bird's favourite food was crepes covered in Nutella spread.
"And I reckon I had a fair few of them as well."
So it should have come as little surprise that when he returned to the NRL in 2010 to play for the Gold Coast Titans he was above what he would normally consider his optimal playing weight. But now, four years on, he credits the culture shock and two new relationships for being fitter than at any other time in his career.
Bird, the Titans and Blues coach Laurie Daley are anxiously awaiting the Round 9 charge sheet from the match review committee after the New South Wales enforcer was placed on report for a potential dangerous throw in the 60th minute of his side's 40-18 loss to the Rabbitohs on Saturday night.
It was the second blowout scoreline of what has been an otherwise tremendous start to the year with the tenaciousness of Bird and fellow co-captain Nate Myles credited for leading the team to gritty wins over the Storm, Broncos, Wests Tigers and Cowboys in particular.
Co-captain of the club and contracted at the Titans until at least the end of the 2017 season, Bird will be 33 years of age when he decides whether to extend his playing career further and says it was the influence of an aging Titans squad that made him see the error of his dietary ways.
When he arrived on the Gold Coast teammates such as Preston Campbell, Luke Bailey, Mat Rogers, Brad Meyers and Scott Prince were all on the wrong side of 30 and it was their influence that made Bird realise he was a long way from getting the best out of himself.
"It was definitely a spectacle coming back from France, I was a bit out of shape," Bird tells NRL.com as we sit in his hip and healthy cafe, BSKT, on Gold Coast's Nobby's Beach.
"The Titans was an aging squad and since I'd debuted I'd been the youngest in the squad at Cronulla. Our peak time at Cronulla was probably 2007-2008 and I was still only 23 or 24; there weren't a great deal of senior players.
"And then coming to the Gold Coast, over half the squad was over 30 and seeing those guys and the extra stretching, the extra training, the supplements, everything that they were doing made me feel like I wasn't professional.
"I didn't really think about it to be honest beforehand and at that stage, come back [to the NRL], get a few injuries, you've got to ask yourself why and do something about it.
"I definitely feel a lot better now than I did a couple of years ago. I wish I could go back and tell myself to maybe look after my diet a little bit better but now I've got four years left on the Gold Coast and I'm feeling probably the best I ever have.
"I definitely feel more professional, that's one thing that I feel. When I need the energy it's probably there. Whether that's because of supplements, because of nutrition, because of the extra work you do these days with yoga and alternative training techniques, the altitude chamber that we've got at the centre, I do feel fitter, stronger, more agile and more flexible.
"When I was a young fella I probably took a lot of it for granted, took playing first grade rugby league for granted. I was happy to be out there playing and I did my best but you're always changing and always learning new things and becoming more professional."
The other two people who have significantly altered how Bird prepares his body for battle are fiancee Rebecca Rochow and business partner Selasi Berdie.
Berdie was one of the original contracted Titans of 2008 – playing two NRL games across 2008 and 2009 – and was still a member of the senior squad when Bird arrived from France.
With dual degrees in Exercise Science and Business (Sports Management), Berdie is now a key figure in the research and development of supplements produced by Body Science. When he sensed that Bird was showing more interest in developing a healthy lifestyle he approached him about being involved in a health-based restaurant with menu items that each offer specific nutritional benefits.
"Being from Melbourne I was already into food and being from Fitzroy I was into alternative types of exercise like yoga and pilates and different types of strength training," Berdie explains. "I told 'Birdy' about an idea that I'd had and he fit the mould of being a well-known athlete who was also quite business savvy. He was receptive to the idea, thought it was good, I gave him a business plan and pretty much went from there."
Although his role is very much the taste tester as opposed to the chef, Bird lists BSKT's salmon aburi, the kangaroo san choy bau and the healthy quesadilla as his favourite items on the menu, a far cry from his diet of a few years ago.
"Even when I first came up here it was regular McDonald's visits... Diet wasn't a priority I guess," says Bird. "I ate whatever was available in my house and whatever I grabbed off the shelf at the shopping centre.
"That probably changed when I met my partner now, Rebecca. She's quite into diet and health and nutrition and then that coincided with when I started coming here and doing a bit with Sel with the cafe; reading the back of the menu and sitting with him and him and breaking down pretty much everything on the menu.
"Physically I've been more responsible with what I'm putting into my body and what I'm doing on the training paddock, pretty much since having everything ripped away and having to start afresh."
Tomorrow at midday, Bird opens up on his supplements ignorance in the early part of his career.