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Dragons recruit Jack Bird.

In the first in a series of articles on players aiming for a bounce-back year in 2021, Troy Whittaker details the key areas for Dragons recruit Jack Bird in his bid to return to his best.

He's a premiership winner, NSW State of Origin representative, and six seasons into his NRL career - and is only 25 years old.

Jack Bird's body has let him down for the past three seasons, but the utility's talent and resume are undeniable.

The Dragons recruit played just 17 games after joining Brisbane from Cronulla in 2018 - and didn't set foot on the field at all last year - with a sternum and two serious knee injuries consigning him to the background following a blazing 66-match start to the first three seasons of his first-grade career.

He may have been out of sight, out of mind for some fans, but Bird could be a defining signing by St George Illawarra if he can stay fit and recapture the form of his Sharks days.

Coming up to two years since he last played football, new Dragons coach Anthony Griffin is prepared to be cautious with Bird, who is back training with the main group ahead of February's trials.

Bird has been touted to slot into in the back-row, where he starred for St George Illawarra in the under-20s, and is training with the forwards - though a specific role has not been confirmed.

Regarded as an "out and out footy player" rather than a modern-day athlete who specialises in a particular position, where Bird plays may not matter as much as how involved he is in the Dragons' matches.

Jack Bird starred for the Sharks in his rookie season in 2015.
Jack Bird starred for the Sharks in his rookie season in 2015. ©Grant Trouville/NRL Photos

He is contracted to his junior club until 2022 after having been granted an early release by the Broncos.

When he was at his best in his three-year Sharks stint, Bird possessed an X-factor that made him dangerous anywhere on the field.

Capable of beating opponents with strength and footwork or setting up others with slick skills, Bird was also a reliable one-on-one defender. 

But in his first season at Brisbane, Bird's fitness was questioned and his work rate went down. Just as he looked to be returning to top gear in 2019, injury robbed him of the chance to continue his rise.

As a Shark, he averaged more than 23 touches in possession per game but at the Broncos, that dipped to just 16.7.

Statistical peak

Announcing himself as a player to watch when he helped Cronulla reach the final of the 2015 NRL Nines in Auckland, Bird became the team's first-choice five-eighth that year, scoring two tries in his starting NRL debut against the Roosters in round four.

Bird posted strong numbers in his maiden NRL campaign, scoring eight tries and assisting another seven in the No.6 jersey.

A running playmaker, he averaged 75 metres per game but was no liability in defence with an 88.22% tackle efficiency rate. The Sharks reached the second week of the finals that year.

Getting to know Junior Amone

Moved to centre in 2016 to accommodate the arrival of James Maloney, there was no second-year syndrome for Bird. He averaged more metres (111.5) as Cronulla won their first title, toughing it out in the grand final against Melbourne despite a hyperextended elbow.

Bird earned a NSW call-up in '16, playing off the bench in games two and three of the series defeat. He played all three matches for the Blues the following year as they again went down to Queensland.

Managing a shoulder injury in the closing rounds of 2017, Bird again made the finals with Cronulla and elevated his yardage game (113m), though his tackle efficiency rate continued to decline (76.18%).

Jack Bird leaves the field injured during the 2020 trials.
Jack Bird leaves the field injured during the 2020 trials. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

Terribly bad luck

Heralded as a key signing for Brisbane under coach Wayne Bennett, Bird's time at Red Hill started controversially as the Broncos claimed the Sharks didn't disclose the full extent of his shoulder injury.

He had surgery in November 2017 and had to wait until round three of 2018 to turn out for his new club, with some questioning his fitness as his statistical output markedly shrunk. A sternum problem ended his season after eight games.

Bird began 2019 in fine touch at centre, with talk of an Origin recall gaining volume as his numbers trended upwards. However, an ACL injury put him back on the sidelines after nine rounds.

The Berkeley Eagles junior was training impressively leading into the 2020 season as he prepared for a tilt at fullback, only for another knee injury to keep him in rehab for the whole season.