Bird plays through worst-ever pain
If there's anything that underpins the spirit behind Cronulla's 2016 premiership drive, it's the efforts of boom centre Jack Bird to play out the grand final after badly hyper-extending his elbow inside the first quarter of the game.
The eye-watering injury came about when Bird's skipper Paul Gallen landed on his arm in a tackle; Bird immediately yelled out in pain and was writhing on the ground before being attended to by the trainer.
It looked certain he would need to be taken from the field but remarkably the 21-year-old not only played the full 80 minutes but finished as one of his team's best performers, racking up 162 metres and adding plenty of spark in the tense late stages with the match on the line.
Speaking to media just moments after belting out the team song in the ANZ Stadium sheds, Bird, still running on adrenaline, said nothing was dragging him from the field in such a big game.
"I came in at half time, it was pretty sore but they put some anaesthetic in it and nothing's going to stop me playing on the big stage. It's unbelievable," Bird said.
"There was a time there I thought I had to come off but nothing was stopping me.
"I thought I actually broke my elbow. I chased out there at marker and went for the legs and I think it was Gal that fell on it. I might have just hyperextended it but I thought I broke it. Even if I broke it, I was going to stay out there.
"It's the grand final, this is war. You're going to go out there and do anything to win. You're going to rip someone's eyeballs out, you're going to do it. This is to win the grand final."
Bird said it was the most severe pain he'd ever played through in a game.
"I've probably had some injuries, I've done my ACL before… I've done my lateral ligament at training and I played all season last year with that but I can't recall being out there on the field and having so much pain in my life."
Storm players immediately targeted Bird in the defensive line once he elected to play on with the injury and the Sharks youngster said he'd have done the same thing.
"If you saw someone injured in the opposition team you're going to mark them, you're going to target them and you're going to run at them all day but I wouldn't let the boys down, no way," he said.
"There's no way I was going to let a try in or anything, if I had to make a tackle and my arm came off I'd still play," Bird said.
"We owed these guys one; they beat us down there (at AAMI Park) in Round 26 for the minor premiership. We had that in the back of our minds. We knew what we had to do to go out there and win and we did it."
It is possible Bird's amazing year – just his second in the top grade which was rewarded with a State of Origin debut and now a premiership – may culminate in a shock Kangaroos selection for the upcoming Four Nations tour to the UK. Bird though wasn't fazed about whether that honour would cap his stunning season and nor was he sure if his potentially broken elbow would allow it.
"It doesn't bother me, we've won the grand final. I'm happy enough to be with the boys for the rest of the summer and chill out and if I don't get picked. I'll still be supporting them 100 per cent," Bird said.
"I'm sure [Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga] has selected his team and if I'm in it, 100 per cent I'll be keen to go in but if I'm not I'm just going to relax, get my elbow right.
"We'll have to wait and see if I do get selected; I might have to sit out because of my elbow."