Jack Bird’s physicality is likely to get him the nod over Ben Barba at fullback for Cronulla when coach Shane Flanagan names his first NRL team for the season on Tuesday.
Both Bird and Barba, a former Dally M medallist, impressed at various stages in the No.1 jumper during last month’s trials, however, Flanagan admits he’s enamoured by Bird’s bigger frame.
“I saw some things over the two trials that I really liked from him at fullback,” Flanagan said.
“(But) he saved a try there one-on-one that not too many people could do – be able to hold up Brenton Lawrence over the tryline, flipped him on his back.
“That’s the physicality of Birdy at fullback.”
The 20-year-old Bird was initially brought over to the club as a centre last season, but eventually found a home as a makeshift five-eighth, where he won plenty of admirers in Cronulla’s charge to the finals.
And despite intending to use him as a fullback this year, Flanagan predicted that not only does Bird’s long-term future lie back at the scrumbase at club level, but on the representative scene as well.
“Long-term he’s either going to be a fullback or as he develops, he can play five-eighth. I’ve seen the (Darren) Lockyers switch from one to six,” he said.
“As a young kid, 20-year-old, he’s developing nicely. If he keeps developing and if he can play those two positions, he’s going to be real valuable, especially when he does start to play rep football.”
Bird’s move to the backfield, together with the key additions of established halves Chad Townsend and James Maloney, is certain to give Cronulla an attacking flavour that was lacking at the club last season.
“This year, especially with the two new halves and a new fullback, we’re going to be able to have a few more points in us (and) not just be defence orientated,” he said.
“I still like that philosophy of being a good defensive team, but we’ll be able to score some points as well this year, when we come together. It’s not going to click straightaway but eventually it will.”
Cronulla open their season against reigning premiers North Queensland on Saturday.