Thaiday: Blues missed Bird 'big time'
Broncos and Queensland forward Sam Thaiday says Greg Bird's absence from the NSW team in last year's State of Origin series was noticeable, ahead of their club clash on the Gold Coast on Friday night.
The Broncos and Titans are both sitting inside the top four with three wins apiece through the first month but last year's runners up have been the more impressive, their 21-20 win over the Cowboys last week sure to stand tall as one of the games of the year at season's end.
While the Broncos have been largely clinical the Titans have made a habit of staging courageous comebacks and Bird has often been the one at the heart of their endeavours.
When Tyrone Roberts left the field 25 minutes from full-time in Canberra on Saturday Bird took on more of the playmaking responsibility but it is toughness that Thaiday said the Blues missed most in 2015.
Bird missed the entire 2015 Origin series due to suspension and Thaiday said there was no question the Blues were a lesser team without him.
"You come into Origin camp and you see Paul Gallen and you see Greg Bird in that team and you know it's going to be a totally different team to a team without those two guys in it," Thaiday told NRL.com.
"They probably did miss him big time.
"He's a bit of an enforcer for them. He brings an energy and brings a toughness to that team so they definitely missed him."
The careers of Thaiday and Bird have run almost parallel since 2003 when they were both selected to play for the Junior Kangaroos.
They made their NRL debuts less than 12 months apart and have played 13 Tests together as well as two games for the Indigenous All Stars.
They have waged wars against each other at both club and Origin level for more than a decade and Thaiday knows what he's in for when they meet again at Cbus Super Stadium on Friday.
"He's in your face, he's a fierce competitor, he never gives up and I think that's probably why it's always a tough old challenge when you play against him," said Thaiday, who has 11 wins from 15 games against the Titans to date.
"He's got a bit of banter in him. It's usually in close in a wrestle. He'll whisper something in your ear or give you a little bit of a facial or a bit of a scruff of the hair.
"It's a game that all players mark on their calendar whenever they play the Broncos but Birdy always does seem to lift and pulls out all of his tricks.
"It's a Broncos-Titans game; it's going to be a close game. It's going to have some freakish tries from both teams, it's going to be physical at times, there's going to be a little bit of roughness there as well. That's what we're expecting.
"We've got to drive down the highway and we've got to be expecting a good, tough game."
The Broncos remain the clear-cut premiership favourites through the opening month of the season and the Titans remain at relatively long odds to even make the top eight.
They have exceeded expectations to be as high as they currently are on the table and Thaiday himself has been impressed by the character they have shown.
"[Their form] has been a bit up and down but in saying that the thing that's shone and stood out for them is their willingness to compete and stay in the contest," he said.
"Even when they're behind they seem to find something and pull a rabbit out of the hat."