Titans forward Greg Bird has spoken for the first time about the club suspension that saw him miss the opening two games of the 2015 Telstra Premiership, the isolation he felt being separated from his teammates – and his desire to inspire the Titans to a successful season.
Bird, Beau Falloon, Dave Taylor, Kalifa Faifai Loa and Jamie Dowling were each stood down by the club in February in relation to an investigation by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission and were only allowed to resume their playing careers two weeks ago.
In an exclusive interview with NRL.com ahead of the Titans' clash with the Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium this Friday, the New South Wales and Kangaroos forward spoke candidly about a difficult past few months including:
• The pain of being isolated from the playing group
• His desire to see out his contract on the Gold Coast, and
• How the support of wife Becky helped to get him through a difficult period.
Stripped of the Titans' co-captaincy in December for a separate off-field incident, Bird said that being removed from the playing group and the uncertainty surrounding their futures was the hardest part of the club-imposed suspension as the five suspended players were forced to train by themselves.
"A very hard period; just isolated," Bird told NRL.com of his time in exile. "We were taken away from our teammates, taken away from our job.
"There are always the people that want to chip you but these people are chipping us with a lack of information. They don't know what's happened. We've all plead not guilty."
With each day that passed Titans officials were asked by the media and the players' respective legal representatives whether the suspended players would be reinstated and within what timeframe, the first two rounds of the season passing by before they were once again available for selection.
"It was hard. Just the not knowing was difficult," said Bird. "Not knowing when we were going to be back, not knowing if we were going to be back.
"There were a lot of questions but it was good to get out there and try and be active [by training together] and make sure if the time did come when we got the phone call that we'd be allowed back that we were ready to play."
Warned by the Titans he was on his last chance, Bird admits he was worried his NRL career was under threat when he was stood down by the club.
"You always fear your career could be over when it comes to anything, whether it's injury or suspension," said the 31-year-old. "There are a million setbacks that happen and you always fear the worst at first but I'm confident we will be cleared."
Bird found himself in the headlines and subsequently on the sideline from within 24 hours of marrying Becky Rochow in Byron Bay on December 6 and said her support has been invaluable in such a difficult time.
"The married life's been great. Becky's been great to me," Bird said. "Outside married life has been quite difficult but Becky's been my rock, she's been awesome for me.
"She's got her own life and her own studies and work, it's not like she was just hanging on me, but she's been so supportive, like other people in the group, close family and friends. She's been great."
But as for reports that surfaced in February linking him with a move to Newcastle where his rugby league career began, Bird was insistent that he has every intention of seeing out the remainder of his current contract and staying with the Titans until at least the end of the 2017 season.
"I do want my future to be here. I wanted it here when I signed a four-year deal last year, that was my goal and I've got three years left here. I don't plan on going anywhere," said Bird, who will play his 98th game for the club on Friday.
"Although there has been talk that I wasn't happy, that's all rubbish. I love it here on the Gold Coast, I like the team, I'm happy with the coaching staff and the changes and the jobs that those guys are doing.
"When it comes to the football department I'm really keen to see where this side is going.
"What I want the fans to know is that the team and myself in particular, all the senior players, are working to get the team to the top.
"We're going out week in and week out doing our best and it doesn't matter what's happened before, right now we're out there trying to win games."
Winning a game was exactly what the Titans were able to achieve last weekend in Cronulla with Bird one of the standout performers against his former club. Now that they have registered their first competition points of the season, Bird is eager to give the fans at home something to finally cheer about.
"They're always big occasions when we play the Broncos in the derby and being on Good Friday night I hope we get plenty of Titans fans there and Broncos supporters head down the motorway too in numbers," he said.
"We've only won one of nine games at home since we beat the Broncos in Round 6 last year, although there have been some close losses, so we know how important this game is to the team and for Titans fans.
"It's a big opportunity for us to get back-to-back wins and get some sort of platform to move forward from. They're in good form and while we showed a lot of character to come from behind against the Sharks, we know we have to improve.
"I'm feeling the benefits from a couple of games under my belt now and I want to lead from the front."