Jack Bird will play in honour of his late nan when St George Illawarra take on Wests Tigers in Friday night’s Indigenous Round match at Bankwest Stadium.
Bird’s maternal grandmother was the person who first told the former NSW Origin star about his Indigenous heritage when he was in his teens and playing for the Berkeley Eagles in Wollongong.
He returned to his junior club on Tuesday with Dragons teammates Josh Kerr and Tyrell Sloan to do some coaching and promote the NRL’s Indigenous Round.
The 26-year-old centre said he had only found out about his ancestry through a conversation with his nan and her brother.
The 2017 All Stars representative wants to learn more about his Indigenous background but they both passed away last year while he was in Brisbane with the Broncos.
A deeper dive into the Dragons' 2021 indigenous jersey
"I am going to be playing for them and my family on Friday night," Bird said. "I am proud of who I am so it means a lot to me to play in this game.
"I have only realised over the last few years that I am Aboriginal so I want to learn a little bit more about it. It was to do with the stolen generation but to be honest I don’t know too many details about it.
"We were just talking one day when they told me. It was a bit of a surprise and I didn’t realise.
"I am still trying to learn a bit more about my culture and my background, and I have still got a bit to go.
"I didn’t really get to speak to my nan too much about it because I was in Brisbane and she was down here, and then her brother passed away from cancer not long after. He knew a lot more about it."
After three injury-plagued seasons with the Broncos, he is enjoying his football again and playing well enough to be considered for Blues selection when the Origin teams are named on Sunday night for the June 9 series opener.
Not even the online abuse Bird has endured over footage of the teary-eyed centre in the sheds after last Friday night’s 13-12 loss to Cronulla has dampened his renewed enthusiasm for the game.
"I wear my heart on my sleeve and I like winning, I don’t like losing," Bird said.
"I played with the Sharks for three years and won a comp there, so it was a bit hard to take losing to them.
People blow up if you are on the field and you lose and you are laughing with the other team.Jack Bird
"But people blow up if you are on the field and you lose and you are laughing with the other team, so I guess if someone shows emotion why do you get upset?
"I would much rather do that than be happy. I do care about the team and I do care about the boys and I want to win another premiership. Losing isn’t going to get you that so obviously I get disappointed.
"I am an emotional person and I guess I’m just competitive. I love the game and it has taken so much for me to get back on the field and so much to get back playing good footy.
"I haven’t played more than 10 games in a season for three years and that was the first time so that probably could have been part of it as well, but I definitely don’t like losing and especially in a tight game like that."
Since joining the Dragons this season, Bird has been attending junior training sessions at Berkeley of his own accord and was joined on Tuesday night by Kerr and Sloan to conduct a skills session for about 60 young players.
It has to be seen to be believed
The St George Illawarra stars handed out Indigenous footballs and DoorDash, the NRL’s Indigenous Round presenting partner, surprised the junior players with a delivery from Sneaky Burger for dinner.
DoorDash is putting its partnership to good use, providing the NRL School to Work program with $25,000 to help students reach their goals.
"Birdy always comes down to training off his own bat and I’ve met a few of his mates so I want to start coming down too because they all just love football," Kerr said
"Everyone down here loves him because he is a such a community man and that is something I really admire about him. He is just a really down to earth person and for someone who has been through a few hardships for him to just come down here and give his time is pretty awe-inspiring.
"For two years virtually, he has been out of the game but he has worked so hard and I think he has put himself back into the window for Origin.
"He is a very good player and he just wants to win. You saw last week how passionate he was, with a few tears in his eyes after we lost so I really hope he gets the opportunity at Origin."
After shoulder, sternum and back-to-back knee injuries that limited him to just 17 matches in three seasons with the Broncos, Bird said his goal was to play every game and regain his love of the sport.
"I am doing that and if I get selected for Origin that’s a bonus but there are a lot of good players playing good footy," he said.
"Hopefully one day I will get back into that arena but for now I am just enjoying playing footy and enjoying being home."