Jack Bird will likely start as the Cronulla fullback despite coming up with an indifferent performance in Sunday’s 24-24 NRL trial draw with Manly.
But as the Sharks’ fullback picture became clearer, it became even murkier for St George Illawarra, Penrith and Canterbury just three weeks out from the season proper.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan declared Bird has his nose in front of teammates Valentine Holmes and Ben Barba as they vie for the coveted No.1 role.
Despite several lapses – including dropping a bomb on his own goalline which nearly cost his side a try and coming up with a defensive blunder that allowed Brayden Wiliame to score – Flanagan was full of praise for Bird who is being shaped for a move from five-eighth.
Bird finished off a Sam Tagatese break to score in the first half and saved a certain Brenton Lawrence four-pointer before being given an early shower.
“He did really well tonight, he saved one there as well, he had some nice touches,” Flanagan said.
“It’ll be a bit of a challenge next week to see where they all fit but I’d say Jack Bird has his nose in front after today.”
Holmes had limited opportunities until being shifted to fullback in the second half and scored a decisive try.
However he is unlikely to be given time at No.1 in their final pre-season fixture against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown next week.
Also complicating things for Flanagan is the form of Barba who looked shades of his former self for the Indigenous All Stars in their loss to the World All Stars at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
Elsewhere, Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has hinted he won’t be moving newly-appointed captain Matt Moylan from the No.1 jumper after failing to set the world on fire at five-eighth in their 24-20 win over Canterbury.
Moylan is destined for a future in the halves and Anthony Griffin is weighing up whether to move him there this season with incumbents Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace under pressure.
Who will run out in the Canterbury No.1 jumper in their season opener against Manly on March 4 is also clouded after Will Hopoate limped off Pepper Stadium on Saturday night.
Coach Des Hasler did his best to play down Hopoate’s injury as a “cork”, but with Brett Morris racing the clock with a knee injury, his two best fullback options are no certainties to start the season.
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor also said he needed some time to mull over who would play fullback for the Red V after Kurt Mann had a mixed day in their 18-14 Charity Shield loss to South Sydney at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Mann has been tipped to wear the No.1 with NSW Origin back Josh Dugan to move to right centre.
Meanwhile Gold Coast forward Agnatius Paasi continued his strong pre-season, starring in his side’s 20-20 draw with Parramatta in Alice Springs.