Exciting Sharks rookie Jack Bird says getting roughed up by his older brother Sam and his mates in backyard footy games as a kid was the perfect tonic to set him on a path towards an NRL career.
After a stunning Auckland Nines campaign Bird has continued to bide his time in the Sharks NSW Cup side at the start of the 2015 NRL season but a first grade debut beckons sooner rather than later for the Berkeley Eagles junior, who turns 20 on March 20 – the same day the NRL kicks off its Round 3 'PlayNRL' round.
"I started playing footy when I was five years old," Bird told NRL.com.
"Obviously you have to be six to start playing juniors but I started playing football a year early, I played under sixes twice."
Maybe that early start is why the prodigious talent looks ready to make the step up to the game the big boys play, despite being younger than almost anyone you'll see on the park this weekend.
Maybe the backyard games of footy against Sam helped him get through that early start.
"My brother, he's four years older than me, he was a good footy player back then," Bird recalled.
"When you're young you always look up to your older brother I guess. Whatever he did I wanted to do. I'd say my brother and probably my dad as well [inspired me to play rugby league], my dad's a big footy fan. I'd say those two got me into playing footy and from there on I just kept playing."
Asked if he got smashed in those backyard games, Bird laughed: "My brother did yeah! Him and his mates. They used to just play footy, I was four years younger and wanted to hang around. I probably kept playing over the years because they kept smashing me and I'd say they got me a bit tougher."
Bird is a bona-fide Wollongong junior, and his recruitment is a major coup for the Sharks.
"My junior club was the Berkeley Eagles in the Illawarra. I played with them until I was about 13 and moved over to Western Suburbs and played from under-15s to the under 18s then I moved myself into the under-20s Dragons team and from there I came here [to Cronulla]," Bird said.
"They've welcomed me, I feel at home, I've got a few boys here like Gerard Beale and Kyle Stanley that were at the Dragons with me.
"And Steve Price [former Dragons coach and now-Sharks assistant coach], all those kind of blokes were at the Dragons last year so I feel kind of at home and all the other boys here, they're all good blokes. I feel at home and I'm enjoying it so far."
Bird's outstanding Nines campaign came as a surprise - not so much for the fact the Junior Kangaroos' talent was on show - so much as the maturity and polish he displayed. In true rugby league fashion though, Bird downplayed the performance.
"You just try and play to your ability and try and play your best every game and that's what I did," Bird said.
He spent plenty of time on the wing over in Auckland after playing plenty of back row in the NYC competition, but his best position for now, according to the man himself, is centre. With more seasoned NRL campaigners Beale and Ricky Leutele ahead of him he's happy biding his time for now.
"I've been training at centre for the whole pre-season. It's really up to coach where he wants to play me.
"I've played a bit of back row but I prefer my position to be centres but I'd do anything for the team and wherever he wants me to play I'd be happy to be there. My main focus is centres, hopefully I get a centre spot, if not I'll just keep chipping away I guess."
Round 3 of the Telstra Premiership is PlayNRL Round where the game will celebrate all that’s great about grassroots rugby league.
Rugby league is all about having fun, making friends and staying healthy. The NRL is using this round to help promote Junior Rugby League and thank you, our future stars and fans and heroes who help make it all possible.
Join the conversation at #PlayNRL, get your tickets at nrl.com/tickets and get to a game. Talk to your local junior club about signing up as a player or volunteer and join the thousands of people who make rugby league great.