Blossoming 'bromance' boosts Bird
Exciting Cronulla rookie Jack Bird says senior clubmate Luke Lewis is like another brother to him and praised the international back-rower's influence over his young career.
Bird and Lewis not only play right next to each other on Cronulla's right edge week in, week out, but spend plenty of time together off the field having hit it off from the time Bird arrived at the club from St George Illawarra for the 2015 season.
"We're pretty close friends now," the 20-year-old Wollongong product told NRL.com.
"We play on the same edge and even outside of footy we're pretty close... He's a great player and a great leader."
Bird said he had a tough time arriving at the club as a teenager and not knowing too many people.
"It was hard coming in, getting to know them all, especially 'Lewy' because he's a cranky bugger! But he's easy to get along with. I think I was probably more shy when I first came here because I didn't really know anyone but as the weeks went on we got pretty close, got closer and closer," Bird said.
"We love the same things, especially outside of footy – motorbikes, beach, basketball, that's probably why we got so close, we love doing the same things outside of footy.
"I go over to his house some nights for dinner, I've stayed at his house a few times, he's like another brother to me. I can just see a lot in him that reflects me. He's helped me out a lot, he's a good bloke on and off the field," he said.
Lewis told NRL.com that he and Bird had indeed formed a special bond, with the young five-eighth someone who he feels has revitalised his own playing career.
"I love him, I'd do anything for that kid, he's a special player," Lewis said.
"I love watching him play. He's just a natural footballer and he's got all the skills in the world, he can play any position on the field. I feel very fortunate to run out beside him each week and watch what he does on the field.
"I'm looking forward to seeing his career blossom over the next couple of years. I think he's going to be a superstar so I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to play with him.
"He's just one of those blokes you love being around, he's a bit of a character, he has a bit of a joke and nothing seems to faze him too much. They're the kind of people you want to be around. I've really got a lot of time for him."
Lewis said Bird had blossomed on the field since debuting off the bench in Round 4.
"When he first came in I sat back and watched him in pre-season, watched from outside in, saw his skill sets, how his attitude was," Lewis said.
"His first day of training he was out in front in fitness and when we've got the ball in our hands playing skill games he's got great skills. The way he can read a game is pretty special.
"I got the opportunity to start doing a bit of work with him on the edges and really had a lot of time for him straight away then started to get to know him. When I really did get to know him I just got drawn to him, he's one of those kids that brings back a lot of memories and I think he's revitalised my footy as well."
You could draw parallels between the playing styles of the two men, despite the fact they are at opposite ends of the experience scale. Lewis came into grade as an outside back, won a premiership and played Origin on the wing, spent several years in the centres and dabbled in the halves on his way to a permanent move to the back row.
Bird sees himself predominantly as a centre despite establishing himself as a running five-eighth in his debut season but was a sensation on the wing at the pre-season Auckland Nines and would make a wonderful fullback if given the chance, according to Lewis. Many judges tip him for a future as a ball-playing back-rower, despite repeated protests from the man himself that he does not see himself in the pack any time soon.
"I see a lot of myself in him. He's his own player but I love how he runs around, mucks around, does everything with a smile on his face and he sort of brought back that feeling of 'that's what footy's all about'," Lewis said.
"Then I sit there and watch him play footy and he can play anywhere. He can play wing, I think his best position's probably fullback, he loves playing fullback, he can play centre, five-eighth, throw him in the back row, he can probably play lock, he's one of those kids who's not afraid to throw himself in front of someone who's running at him.
"He's an all-round natural footballer and for me, I've really enjoyed the opportunity of playing in different positions so I suppose to see Birdy who fits that category, I feel pretty blessed that people say they see similarities in myself and Birdy. I think Birdy could be anything to be honest with you."
More than anything, it's Bird's irrepressible desire to compete that has impressed Lewis most.
"He's a competitor, he never gives up on any plays, he chases to the end," Lewis said.
"If there's an opportunity to maybe half get out of the in-goal or make a tackle to save a try he's the first bloke there and I love that about him."
Bird will be one of the favourites to take the rookie of the year title this year but despite his tender age says he doesn't feel like a long season is beginning to weigh him down.
"It's been a bit different, a big change from 20s but I think I'm handling it pretty well," Bird said.
"I've played 20-odd games now. Playing first grade is a dream of mine and now I'm actually doing it, it's a pretty good feeling.
"I've noticed that some coaches put some young people in there for experience and drop them back but 'Flanno' [Sharks coach Shane Flanagan] has kept me in there and I'm grateful for that. My focus is just coming in, training hard, playing good week in, week out, for Flanno and the team.
"It's not too bad. It hasn't really drained me, I wouldn't say it's drained me. It's very physical but I love it and that's what I thrive off. I'm enjoying it so far."