Brisbane quest to find right perch for Bird
The Brisbane Broncos’ first aim for Jack Bird in the upcoming off-season is to get him and fit and healthy and the second is to find the best position for him to play in the top 17 moving forward.
The Broncos’ $3 million four-year investment in the 2016 premiership winner has been hindered by Bird’s ongoing sternum issue, which required a recent operation.
The sight of the 23-year-old in action at Brisbane training on Wednesday in the halves was a heartening one - for fans, the man himself, and the club.
Bird remains at long odds of playing again in 2018 after lining up in just eight Telstra Premiership games this season.
Whether he can take the field in the finals series, likely off the bench as a cover-all-bases utility, will be determined by another scan on his sternum in the coming days
The conundrum for the Brisbane brains trust is to find where Bird fits best in the long-term. There are more questions than answers right now.
Bird is a scrapper and a competitive footballer whose style fitted in seamlessly with the way the Sharks like to play.
In a more free-flowing Broncos outfit his place in the team is not as obvious. He favours the right centre position where he won the 2016 grand final, but that is where James Roberts has found his niche.
Bird is not comfortable playing left centre and that position is not one the Broncos intend pursuing with him.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett made it clear in the pre-season that his preferred halves combination for 2018 was always going to be Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima. Bird had a crack there when Nikorima was benched for several games, but was unable to put his stamp on that position.
Lock is another position Bird can play but the Broncos have Kangaroos and Maroons forward Josh McGuire locked in there at the moment. The Broncos believe Bird can thrive as an attacking 13 within the expansive way they play, but questions remain as to whether his body can handle it defensively.
Bird’s sternum has been pummelled by opponents due largely to his tackling style and the Broncos have encouraged him to get his shoulders more involved in defensive work.
Bench utility appears to be the best option for Bird at Brisbane, but that is not where you want to be playing such a blue-chip investment. Playing at 14 is also not what Bird had in his sights when he signed with the Broncos.
Potentially, the Broncos also believe Bird could be a fullback but they already have Darius Boyd and Jamayne Isaako signed long-term.
The Broncos will sit down with Bird in the off-season and map out a plan for 2019 to give him some confidence and clarity for the future.
There have been reports suggesting he wants out of Brisbane and to return to Sydney. Coach Wayne Bennett has said that won’t be happening.
Bird’s occasional restlessness is only natural considering he left family behind in NSW and the fact that his on-field aspirations have been hampered by injury.
Boyd told NRL.com in an extensive interview at the start of the season how Bird won over his teammates with his self-deprecating humour, competitive nature, and knockabout ways.
He reiterated that this week when asked how tough it had been for Bird.
"Playing football is our job, our career and our passion and Jack is away from home and came up to get a start and play some good footy," Boyd said.
"It is obviously hard to be out and he is definitely disappointed about the injuries he’s kept getting, but that’s rugby league.
“Jack is a competitor. He has been a great guy around the club and all the boys love and respect him.
“On one hand he has got to look at it being disappointing this year, but [on the other] he can get himself right for next year and come back bigger and stronger.”