Rugby League

Cronulla Shark Jack Bird tipped to make a Josh Dugan-style impact at fullback

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan predicts Jack Bird can have a similar impact to Josh Dugan in the No.1 jersey ahead of the Dally M rookie of the year's first game at fullback.

Bird was a standout for the Sharks at five-eighth in his debut NRL season, scoring eight tries and making 72 tackle busts. The form earned him a Country Origin jersey after just seven games, a Dally M honour and a rich contract extension.

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However, the arrival of new recruits James Maloney and Chad Townsend will result in Bird moving out of the halves and Flanagan indicated the 20-year-old - also adept at playing in the centres or back row - was poised to start the year at fullback ahead of Valentine Holmes and Ben Barba.

While there is also intrigue in how the new halves perform, most of the focus will be on Bird, named as part of a 26-man squad to take on Manly in a trial at Shark Park on Sunday.

Thumbs up: Sharks young gun Jack Bird.
Thumbs up: Sharks young gun Jack Bird. Photo:

"He's a robust player, he's a bit different to some other fullbacks," Flanagan said.

"He'll be in more of a Josh Dugan-style of fullback role. When he carries the ball he's hard to handle, he's strong and a powerful runner.


"I'm excited about the change in our team, two new halves, a new fullback. It will change the dynamics a bit.

"He can break a tackle, he's got that fend that's Dugan-like, if I was to try to pick a fullback off the top of my head that he is similar to.

"He's just starting his career, he's going to be a really good player and he's enjoying the challenge of fullback.

"Birdy, Val and Barba are all doing well; it's been Ben's best pre-season so it's a good position to be in."

Bird and Dugan, who is likely to shift from fullback to the centres, are close mates from their time at the Dragons. While Bird will wear the No.1 jersey, it is likely Holmes will spend some time in the position in both the trial and the season proper.

"He's been training really well there, but in saying that Val and Benny Barba have had some good moments there as well. But I'd say Birdy has a bit of a head start on them," he said.

"The thing Val has up his sleeve is he's a quality winger, it gives us a balance in the team.

"I'm sure you'll see, come competition time, if I go with Bird at fullback and Val on the wing, you'll see Val play a fair bit of fullback in that team as well. Bird can push up in the centres and push out our centre onto the wing for a bit of time as well.

"It's more an education for both of them, [fullback] is a tough position to play knowledge-wise and aerobically. If those two boys prove they can handle it comfortably for 80 minutes I may have to rotate them around a bit."

The Sharks will be without half a dozen of their biggest names due to All Stars duty, while Manly have chosen not to play their marquee off-season recruits. The Sea Eagles, who suffered a horror injury toll at the Auckland Nines, have named a squad of 24 for what will be Trent Barrett's first proper hitout as coach.

Flanagan said he would play his new halves in both trials to give them every opportunity to gel before Cronulla's season opener against defending premiers North Queensland.

"They're going really good," he said.

"They've come together, are working hard to understand each other and have that communication, even if it's not verbal."