Bird ready to swoop on fullback position
Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has all but confirmed the battle to wear the club's No.1 jersey is down to Jack Bird and Ben Barba, with Valentine Holmes set to remain on the wing.
The triumvirate featured in Cronulla's 30-all draw with the Wests Tigers last night, and are all set to be a part of Cronulla's Round 1 squad against the Cowboys.
The duelling fullbacks spent the pre-game warming up at the back, but it was last year's Dally M Rookie of the Year who got first crack against the Tigers.
Bird had a mixed night, scoring Cronulla's first try off a spilled bomb, before putting down a high kick late in the half.
The 20-year-old was busy in attack, and almost scored his second when a sublime inside ball from Wade Graham put him into a yawning gap, only for opposite number James Tedesco to cut him down short of the line.
A second-half switch to the centres immediately paid off, with Bird completing his double moments into the second stanza.
Flanagan was impressed with some aspects of his young star's game, but admits it was a far from polished performance.
Bird made several errors on the night, including one in the final minute that, if avoided, would've broken the 30-30 deadlock.
"I thought 'Birdy' did some good things in the first half," Flanagan said after the game.
"Jack's not happy with his game tonight, because he had a few errors and probably bombed that last try - he still thinks it's a try.
"Jack's a real footy player. The details of fullback play - he's really latching onto that and making it his own - so it's a good battle and it's a good position for me to be in."
Bird's move to centre paved the way for Barba to mount a case for the fullback spot.
The 2012 Dally M Medallist was starved of opportunities, but managed one moment of brilliance when he returned a kick for 30 metres, before offloading to Bird who couldn’t hold on.
"Unfortunately for Benny Barba, they had 65 per cent of possession in the second half," Flanagan said.
"We didn't touch the ball for 11 sets, so for Benny, he didn’t get much of an opportunity to show his wares in offence, which is disappointing."
Flanagan said it was a good conundrum to have, hinting Barba would most likely start the season on the bench as cover for his halves and dummy-half.
Valentine Holmes shapes as the other candidate for the role, but his coach is keen to keep him on the right wing.
The 20-year-old was one of Cronulla's best in his first full season in the top-grade, scoring a team-high 16 tries, and kicking two golden point winning field goals.
"Probably my depth in the outside backs isn't great. There's no one pushing to take Val's spot, so I think he's probably locked up that number five spot," Flanagan said.
New Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend is thrilled to play alongside so many talented youngsters, and was excited about what the trio could deliver in 2016.
"He had a bit of an up-and-down performance," Townsend said of Bird.
"Where he plays, I'm not too sure, but the kid has got some skills, and I'm just happy he's in my team. Wherever he plays, I'm sure he'll play his best footy.
"It's exciting to have all three of them. Any one of them could be fullback at another club, and for us to have all three is a handy asset.
"I'm sure whoever gets the No.1 in Round 1 will do a handy job for us."