He may not have been deemed worthy of the captaincy but Greg Bird emerged as the Gold Coast’s undisputed leader by inspiring a 30-12 NRL season-opening home win over Newcastle on Sunday night.
Bird would have been forgiven for kicking cans after being overlooked as skipper in the off-season, with the Titans opting for clean skins Nathan Friend and Will Zillman.
But Bird said he just wanted to make amends for a controversial 2015 after revelling in miserable Gold Coast conditions to help the Titans dominate a young Knights side.
He set up two tries and amassed 197m in the wet against a Knights side that looks set to snatch the bookies’ wooden spoon favouritism from the Titans.
The NSW hardman was restricted to just 12 games last year and missed the entire State of Origin series due to suspension.
He was also no stranger to controversy off the field – Bird had cocaine charges against him thrown out in October.
“It’s always hard being suspended, you feel you are selling the team short because you are not available,” Bird said.
“I was very keen to get out there and start the season off with a bang.”
Bird inspired a new look Titans pack featuring David Shillington and Chris McQueen to help ease the burden on new halves pairing Ash Taylor and Tyrone Roberts.
Bird’s heroics helped Taylor settle early and outpoint Newcastle’s big name signing, NSW No.7 Trent Hodkinson in just his second NRL game.
“We missed him (Bird) terribly last year and he knows that,” Titans coach Neil Henry said.
“His leadership is valuable out there.”
The Gold Coast were due some good news.
The Titans finished third last in 2015 and their fortunes did not look like improving after Daly Cherry-Evans’ backflip, James Roberts’ contract forgery gaffe and halfback Kane Elgey’s season-ending knee injury.
But Henry could see plenty of positives from a side that had nine new faces including two debutants.
“It’s a good step in the right direction,” he said.
“It puts us in a good frame of mind because we will need to be on our game next week (against Melbourne).”
Barnstorming prop Agnatius Paasi picked up where he left off from the Auckland Nines to rack up 182m and four tackle busts.
Henry’s only potential concern was Friend leaving the field before halftime after receiving a head knock.
The Knights boasted seven new faces including five debutants after losing almost 1,200 NRL games’ worth of experience including captain Kurt Gidley since collecting the 2015 wooden spoon.
“It wasn’t all negative. But as a group we have to learn from making silly penalties,” new Knights coach Nathan Brown said.
“We are going through a process.”
Newcastle’s Pauli Pauli was placed on report for a final minute late shot on Leivaha Pulu.