Jack Bird will join a rare group of NSW players to represent their state in only their second NRL season when he makes his Blues Origin debut.
Bird became the latest New South Welshman rushed into coach Laurie Daley’s line-up after Josh Morris ruled himself out when he failed to finish Saturday’s training session due to a groin injury.
Dylan Walker will start on Wednesday night in the centres, while Bird comes onto the bench.
It completes a stunning rise for the 21-year-old Cronulla centre, who follows in the footsteps of Blues legends Brad Fittler and Bradley Clyde to claim their first NSW jumper just after their rookie campaign.
Bird will proudly pull on the NSW jumper after just 36 games.
“I’d like to see if there’s anyone who has been so quick from making their NRL debut, which was in round four last year, to making their debut in Origin,” Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan told AAP.
“It’s about a season and six games or something that he’s had. It’s been a great rise for him, but he’s a quality player, and he’s not afraid of anything. He’ll be fine.”
Fittler, the Blues’ most-capped player, arrived as an Origin star after just 12 games of first grade, while Clyde played a mere 21 before taking on Queensland for the first time.
Current NRL stars who also achieved the feat include Will Hopoate (15 games) and Mitchell Pearce (30), while the code-hopping Jarryd Hayne played only 25 games when he made his Origin debut.
After spending almost the entire 2015 season at five-eighth, Bird is arguably the Blues’ best utility since former representative player Craig Wing, however Flanagan believes the sky’s the limit for Bird.
“Wingy probably was more of a hooker than Birdy – and that doesn’t suit Jack as such. He’s more of a runner, rather than getting into dummy-half,” he said.
“He can play fullback, he can play five-eighth but, at the moment, where he’s suited best is in the centres and he’s doing a really good job there. But 10 years down the track, who knows where he’ll be.”