Such is Jack Bird’s impact on the field, it is hard to believe he only celebrated his 21st birthday in March this year.
Playing with a badly injured arm in the Grand Final, Bird appeared to get better the further the game went on, putting aside the pain as he helped steer the Sharks to their maiden NRL title, his performance an amazing display of courage and resilience for someone so young.
After a year at five eighth for the Sharks in 2015 Bird was somewhat reluctant to move out wider at the start of the 2016 season, but what a centre he became, with his combination with fellow young gun Valentine Holmes a lethal attacking force for Shane Flanagan’s team.
Bird managed six tries in 2016 however when considering Holmes crossed for 19, many coming after his centre partner threw him the last past after attracting defenders and creating space and it gives an indication as to why the Sharks ability to score points went to new levels this year.
Unpredictable with the ball, strong, tough and someone rarely if ever intimidated by his opponent or the occasion, the Sharks will be hoping to build their team around the likes of Jack Bird for many years to come.
The rugby league world likely first took notice of Bird when he scored two tries against the Roosters at Allianz Stadium in 2015 in what was just his second game in the NRL.
He would go on to become the NRL Rookie of the Year in what was a breakout season, however the next indicator of his unique ability came in game two of the 2016 State of Origin series.
Entering the match midway through the second half Bird delivered an outstanding cameo and was by far the Blues most potent attacking player as he came within a whisker of helping NSW score what would have been an improbable victory.
Bird brought those experiences in rugby league’s biggest arena back to the Sharks and most significantly into the crucial finals matches at the end of the year, where again, he was simply outstanding.
There were many ‘Bird’ moments during 2016, whether it was his defensive efforts in shutting down opposition centres, the tip-ons to Holmes for many a try or his fearless charges into the middle of the ruck, but one play midway through the season stands out above the rest in giving an indication of the Wollongong junior’s rare talent.
In a hard fought match in round 13 at ANZ Stadium it took one inspired piece of Bird magic to help propel the Sharks to a win over the Bulldogs.
Receiving the ball with the Bulldog defence well set, Bird first pushed off Curtis Rona, stepped to the outside where he beat Moses Mbye and Josh Morris with footwork and strength, before drawing Will Hopoate and delivering a one-handed offload for Holmes to touchdown out wide.
Sharks fans already knew how good Bird was, this play was another reminder.
Throughout his short but impressive NRL career Bird has shown his intensely competitive nature, with those attributes again on display in the 2016 Grand Final.
A severe elbow injury would have seen many players retire for the night, not Bird, who battled on with his damaged ‘wing’ while playing a pivotal role in the Sharks victory over the Storm.
“I thought I might’ve done some real damage to it, but nothing was going to get me off that field, no way.
“I was thinking nothing is going to stop me tonight. I wanted this ring, I wanted it more than them.”
Year in Review: Jack Bird*
Games played 2016 - 26
Line Breaks: 13 (4th)
Tackle Busts: 75 (3rd)
One-on-one tackles: 67 (2nd)
*Statistic: (Club Ranking). Statistics via www.foxsports.com.au/nrl