City skipper backs Bird to thrive
City Origin captain and Cronulla vice-captain Wade Graham has backed his younger teammate Jack Bird to stand tall for the Country side, as the two look to face off for the first time in the annual clash at Wagga Wagga's McDonald's Park on Sunday.
Bird, who made his NRL debut in Round 4 for the Sharks and has played the past month at five-eighth, will don the Country Origin No.7 jumper with Knights half Jarrod Mullen ruled out due to his concussion suffered against the Cowboys last weekend.
While Bird was more accustomed playing in the centres or back row before joining the Sharks from the Dragons this season, Graham believes he'll have no problems spearheading the Country attack alongside captain and five-eighth James Maloney.
"'Birdy' will love it. I'm stoked for him. He's such a good kid and he reminds me of myself actually. He just loves playing footy and he gets out there because he's a competitor and good on him because he deserves it," Graham said.
"He's a competitor and it'll be fun to come up against him. He's just going out and playing footy [for us at the Sharks]. A lot of people when they come into first grade go away and get caught up in the 'you have to do this, you have to do that'.
"But 'Birdy' has a lot of freedom at the moment and he just goes out there and does what he thinks is right, and nine times out of ten it is the right thing. I think the camp and the week with Country will help him in the long run. You can put any number on his back and he'll go out there and do his best."
While he is stoked for both his teammate and opposition this weekend, closer to home Graham is happy to see his former club in the Panthers well represented in coach Brad Fittler's team.
Penrith quintet Matt Moylan, Tyrone Peachey, Waqa Blake and Reagan Campbell-Gillard as well as Bryce Cartwright at 18th man will represent City. Though among all the talent, it has been Campbell-Gillard who has impressed Graham greatly.
"I've heard about [Campbell-Gillard] coming through and it's good to see him playing well and it's good to see some of the young blokes coming through and get recognition for doing so," Graham said.
"This whole week for the boys to get first-hand experience with it is something they'll always remember. It's always a good week and they'll be stoked for it. He's starting to find his spot in first grade and in a couple of seasons he could be the mainstay.
"Brent Kite is at the back-end of his career and Reagan is stepping up by playing good solid footy week-in, week-out so who's to say he won't be the Panthers' long-term prop."
As for the City captaincy, Graham described it as "an honour" and said it's just another step towards State of Origin selection.
When NRL.com talked to Graham late last week, the 24-year-old had no idea whether he would be selected let alone be handed the captaincy in Ryan Hoffman's absence.
"I've been lucky to be a part of the City camp for the last three years. I didn't get to play last year which was a bit disappointing. To be given the captaincy is a huge honour and hopefully I can go out there and do my best and go from there," Graham said.
"[My Origin chances won't be] hurt going out there and playing a good game of footy and that's what I'll be focused on and I'm sure all of the boys will be focused on.
"I'm really looking forward to the week ahead. You get to meet people you've never really met before which is one of the good things about the whole experience."