Competition for spots has made players “pull their finger out” at Cronulla training – and maybe help the re-signed Jack Bird put his hand up for NSW Origin duty.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has provided no guarantees for NRL Rookie of the Year Bird, saying pre-season form will determine his 2016 backline.
But Flanagan did tip the 20-year-old Bird to crack the Blues Origin team in 2016 if he answered the challenge.
Flanagan said the early signs were good, backing Bird to “go to the next level” after knocking back a lucrative offer from St George Illawarra and re-signing until 2017 this week.
“It gives him security. He didn’t train that well before Christmas because he had a lot on his mind,” he told Sharks TV.
“But he’s done that (re-signed) and …(since) he has been outstanding.
“I can see Birdy go to the next level and playing Origin if he keeps improving.”
Bird was a revelation at pivot on NRL debut in 2015, helping the Sharks make the semi-finals.
He also earned Country Origin honours.
However, Bird appears set to battle Valentine Holmes for the fullback spot or slot into centre in 2016 after the off-season arrival of halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend.
“Our two halves are going great and there’s a bit of competition in the outside backs – we’ve got to get the fullback bit sorted out,” Flanagan said.
“That’s the way I want it and that’s the way it should be – no one is guaranteed anything.
“It will be great for the club if that competition forces some blokes to pull their finger out and challenge themselves to improve.”
Bird sounded resigned to losing his five-eighth spot to their off-season signings.
“I do have a preference somewhere in the backline – either one (fullback), six (pivot) or three (centre),” he said.
“I am happy to play in the centres or wherever Shane wants to put me – I am sure I will get the job done.”
Flanagan said Bird looked set to feature in a strong Sharks squad that would be out for revenge at next month’s Auckland Nines.
South Sydney scored an extra-time try to defeat Cronulla in the 2015 Nines final.
Flanagan said he would blood new signing and pre-season standout Jordan Drew in a strong squad also boasting Ben Barba at the February 6-7 Nines.
“Benny Barba couldn’t play it last year (due to injury) and the Nines are made for Benny,” Flanagan said.
“We will go there looking to win the competition.”
Flanagan said their February 20 trial against Wests Tigers at Campbelltown was likely to preview the 17 to play defending champions North Queensland in their NRL season opener.