SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 24: Jack Bird of the Sharks celebrates at full time following the round 20 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Newcastle Knights at Southern Cross Group Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)

Bird may fly away from Cronulla’s coop

Jack Bird headlines some of the most talented players off-contract at the end of 2017, and he’s no certainty to remain in the Shire. Despite spending the entirety of his NRL career with the Sharks, Bird’s longing to play in the spine may see him join a rival club for 2018 and beyond.

Debuting for Cronulla in 2015, Bird claimed the Dally M Rookie of the Year Award as he led the Sharks to the finals playing at five-eighth for the club. Although Bird’s 2015 form at five-eighth was outstanding for a rookie, the recruitment of halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend destined Bird for a move to the centres for the 2016 season.

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Bird would form a stellar combination with winger Valentine Holmes on Cronulla’s right edge, scoring six tries. Despite making his debut for New South Wales in the series loss, the highlight for Bird’s season would, without a doubt, be Cronulla’s maiden premiership win. Bird ruptured several ligaments in his elbow early in the match, restricting him to the use of one arm for the majority of the game. The injury didn’t stop Bird from putting in a stellar performance, nearly claiming the Clive Churchill medal, with his elbow the only thing stopping Bird from making his Kangaroos debut at the Four Nations.

Despite the sacking of Ben Barba for illegal substance use, it’s assumed Valentine Holmes will claim the vacant spot, with Bird set to combine with Gerard Beale on the right edge. Being a NSW Blues incumbent, not being able to play in his preferred position could prove frustrating for Bird.

“When you don’t see the ball, it gets pretty boring out there. I like to be around the ball a bit more. Last year when I was playing five-eighth, I really enjoyed that” said Bird last season.

Newcastle originally led the chase for Bird’s signature, but the Knight’s big money signing of young Kalyn Ponga means the club’s fullback spot is filled for years to come. The long-term future of playmaker Jarrod Mullen has been thrown into uncertain waters following his latest setback, but the club has invested heavily into juniors Brock Lamb and Jack Cogger, shutting that door.

Bird’s junior club St George Illawarra have emerged as a possible suitor, with last season highlighting the Dragon’s struggling attacking game. The Dragons have a halves spot vacant following the exit of Benji Marshall, while a move to fullback could open Josh Dugan to a full-time spot in the centres.

One surprising suitor that’s reared its head in recent weeks is the Sydney Roosters. Seemingly already set up with a solid spine for 2018 with the likes of Latrell Mitchell, Luke Keary, Mitchell Pearce and Jake Friend all set to turn out for the tricolours. The Roosters have also expressed interest in the off-contract James Tedesco, which could shape as a surprise exit for a member of their spine.

Bird will begin Cronulla’s title defence in Round One against the Brisbane Broncos, opening the season on Thursday, March 2nd at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Before that, however, Bird will travel with the club to England to face the Wigan Warriors as the Sharks look to claim their maiden World Club Challenge trophy.

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