Bird's Shire switch never in doubt
The Sharks may have endured one of the roughest years in rugby league history, but the chance to learn at the feet of Cronulla's star-studded forward pack means there will be no second guessing a move to the embattled club by young recruit Jack Bird.
Dragons fans saw red last month when it was announced the 19-year-old Junior Kangaroos and NSW Under-20s Origin rep had been snared by their neighbourhood rivals on a two-year deal starting in 2015.
Big things are expected of the Wollongong product after a couple of standout performances at fullback and centre in the Dragons NYC team's run to the preliminary final this year, despite playing the majority of his career in the back-row.
Bird will instead join fellow recruits Michael Ennis, Mitch Brown and Sami Sauiluma in fronting for pre-season training in The Shire in coming weeks pending the return of suspended coach Shane Flanagan.
Given the Sharks' year from hell, which has featured player sackings, coaching and administrative upheavals, the lengthy ASADA supplements scandal and a wooden spoon to boot, Bird could be forgiven if he came down with a case of cold feet ahead of the move.
But the chance to play alongside NSW skipper Paul Gallen, who has been slugged a $50,000 fine and had his Australian future placed in doubt over an offensive tweet, as well as the likes of former Bulldogs skipper Ennis, and Blues players Luke Lewis and Andrew Fifita far outweighs any apprehension over the club's struggles in recent times.
"No, there's always going to be tough times wherever you go, so [Cronulla's off-field dramas] never played a role in my thinking about signing or not," Bird told NRL.com.
"The ASADA stuff, the only way for them is up now I think with that looking like it's all over. But knowing Flanno's coming back, and Gal and all the other boys too, hopefully we'll go well next year.
"Gal's just such a tough bugger. I think he's an immortal, or he should be. So playing alongside him and all the other players like Luke Lewis and Michael Ennis, I think it's going to be great for me and they'll teach me a lot of things, so I'm excited by that."
The Sharks will have plenty of big names packing down in the scrum, provided they can make it onto the park in one piece after a 2014 campaign plagued by injury. It means a start out wide, where Cronulla are in need of some serious firepower, could well be Bird's best chance of cracking an NRL debut next year.
Bird admits the decision to leave the Dragons was a difficult one, particularly given his rapport with junior coaches Ben Hornby and Dean Young, who have since been installed as head coach Paul McGregor's assistants.
But the opportunity to be coached by Flanagan, who is expected to return from a provisional 12-month ban for his role in the Sharks' illegal supplements program in 2011 by Christmas, as well as former St George Illawarra mentor Steve Price, soon to be confirmed as assistant coach, eventually convinced him to make the switch.
"It was a bit scary going into it; I didn't know what I really wanted to do," Bird said.
"I kind of wanted to stay at the Dragons, and then it was playing on my mind a bit. But the opportunity was there and eventually it was good to get it off my shoulders... and being coached by Flanno and the other coaches there, there's a couple of Dragons coaches there as well and I think Pricey's going there too, so that's exciting.
"He's a good bloke and I just can't wait to be coached by him. He's a person's person. He's easy to talk to, and he just seems like a good bloke. I'm getting excited by the thought of being coached by him."