The Jack Bird fullback experiment will get its first airing in public at Shark Park on Sunday but new Cronulla teammate James Maloney is already predicting it will be a success.
Bird will slot in at fullback for the Sharks’ first trial of the NRL season against Manly and has been given the chance by coach Shane Flanagan to fill the position along with Ben Barba and Valentine Holmes following Michael Gordon’s move to Parramatta.
Bird’s positional switch from five-eighth raised a few eyebrows when it was first touted but Maloney believes the talented and versatile 20-year-old can prosper in the custodian role.
The former Sydney Roosters and NSW playmaker said Bird – who last month signed a one-year contract extension which will keep him at the club until the end of 2017 – was a “natural footballer” and one of the few players capable of being competitive at several positions.
“It’s always hard to play against guys that can play off the cuff and play football,” Maloney said.
“They can come up with something out of the box that wasn’t in the gameplan because they can see something and can back themselves.
“I’ve been impressed with him, I played the City-Country game with him last year and it was exciting to get down there and play with him.”
Maloney said Bird was still coming to terms with the position – especially the strenuous running workload and defensive organisational requirements – but had the speed and strike power to be a top line No.1.
“One of his real strengths is his running game, that was evident when he came through last year,” Maloney said.
“Ball playing is something he’s still developing and working on. Obviously he’s come through in the back-row and ball playing is not something he’s done his entire career.
“His running game is very good and he does have good pace. If we can get him the ball with a bit of space, create some room, hopefully he can finish a few things off for us.”