Townsend heading back home to Sharks

Cronulla are set to start next NRL season with a fresh halves pairing after signing local junior Chad Townsend to a two-year contract.

Just three weeks after Sydney Roosters five-eighth James Maloney penned a three-year deal with the Sharks, it was confirmed on Tuesday that Warriors halfback Townsend will head back to Sydney from Auckland in 2016.

Townsend was released from the final year on his Warriors contract on compassionate grounds.

Sharks coach Shane Flanagan assured fans that Townsend’s arrival would not come at the expense of rookie Jack Bird – who has starred since being thrown into the unfamiliar No.6 jersey – while the recruitment also leaves the career of veteran halfback Jeff Robson at a crossroad.

Already boasting one of the strongest packs in the competition, an experienced hooker in Michael Ennis and some of the game’s most exciting young talents in Valentine Holmes and Bird, Townsend’s signing strengthens the squad even further.

Townsend made his debut for the Sharks in 2011 before moving across the ditch where he has flourished this season alongside Golden Boot winner Shaun Johnson.

Flanagan has previously said he never wanted to let Townsend go and was happy to bring him home to the Shire.

“I’ve watched a fair bit of the Warriors and Chad play and his form is outstanding this year,” Flanagan said.

“He’s one of the form players in the competition and definitely for the Warriors.”

Bird is capable of also playing at centre or fullback and the club sees the 20-year-old as a second-rower once his body matures.

“Hopefully Birdy’s at our club for another five or six years,” Flanagan said.

“He’s going to be a rep player and he’s just a footballer.

“He’s not a conventional No.6 but he’s doing a real good job for us this year.

“He’ll learn a heap this year and be better for it.

“Where he plays next year – I’m not quite sure. He can play centre, he can play back-row, he can play fullback, he can play five-eighth.

“He’ll be in every team we pick.”

Flanagan is a big admirer of 32-year-old Robson, who is off contract at the end of the year and considering moving into coaching.

The coach said he wanted to keep Robson and flagged moving him into the utility or back-up hooking role off the bench.

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