Jack Bird will start contact work at training in the next month and has declared he is on track for a round-four debut for the Brisbane Broncos as he continues his recovery from shoulder surgery.
The 22-year-old former Cronulla Shark went under the knife in early November and is back on the training paddock doing ball work.
Bird, who visited regional Queensland this week to support the NRL's Road To Regions program, said the round four Telstra Premiership clash with the Gold Coast Titans at Suncorp Stadium on April 1 remained his desired return date.
"It is three months since my shoulder surgery and I have only just got back on the training field and doing ball-handling skills," Bird told NRL.com.
"I have just started upper body weights and I don't start contact for another month, and then hopefully I am back playing in two months.
"That's the plan but I just have to stay on top of my rehab and do everything the physios say.
"I'm looking at round four ideally, maybe round five, but we'll just have to see how I handle the contact in a month."
Bird referred several times to the "head noise" that he's dealt with during his recovery period, but said he was happy with the way he'd handled the last three months.
As a teenager, he was steeled by some cruel injury blows. An ACL injury followed by chronic rheumatoid arthritis in 2012 had him wondering at the time whether he'd play again.
"So to get through this is just another little hiccup along the road," Bird said.
"I had an ACL injury and got through it, and nearly missed two years with that. I am going to miss a month of footy, and that is hard, but I think I have handled it pretty well.
"There has been a bit of head noise, but it is just good to be back training with the boys now. I am itching to get back out there and play."
In his recent NRL.com column Broncos great Steve Renouf called for a switch of James Roberts from right centre to the left to play on the same side of the field as Anthony Milford. Renouf said that would also suit Bird, who could play in his accustomed position on the right.
Bird said he didn't care which side he played on, but so far he has been training on the left. "When I have been doing my skill work I have been training at left centre," Bird said.
"I'm going to do what is best for the team and if Wayne [Bennett] wants me to play left centre I will, but if he wants to put Jimmy there I'm happy with that too
"I am happy to play centres. I'm not sure what side, but I've been training on the left in the two sessions I have done.
"Milford runs the ball a lot and he has skill and speed, so that puts you in a mindset to back up.
"If I am to play his edge then hopefully I can get a few more tries."
The allure of being coached by Wayne Bennett was one of the key reasons Bird moved to Brisbane and he said the coach had lived up to expectations, more so as a source of encouragement as much as anything else.
"If you are down any time of the day Wayne will lift you back up," Bird said.
"That gives you the confidence to get through the day or the week. He does make sure you are good off the field as much as on it.
"I like Wayne as a coach, and he is an even better bloke. He is short and sharp, but whatever he says you are going to listen to."
Bird helped the Sharks break a 49-year premiership drought in 2016 but the expectations are much higher at Brisbane.
A top-four finish at the Broncos is considered a must and Bird said another one of the reasons he signed with Brisbane was to challenge himself in an environment where success was compulsory and not just an option.
"At the Broncos everyone expects you to be up there at the end of the year, and I do love a challenge," Bird said.
"There are a lot of people who have been talking about us not making the top eight but I am confident with the team we have got that we will be in the eight, and even the top four.
"Everything about Brisbane is pretty attractive…the team, the coach, the fans.
"I thought that if I came here that we could win a premiership. That's the main goal."