In-demand Jack Bird admits it would “break my heart” to leave Cronulla but is seriously weighing up that prospect with the red carpet being rolled out for him elsewhere.
The entry of Parramatta, who have joined Newcastle among the Sharks premiership winner’s suitors, into the marketplace only further complicates the major decision that is looming for the 22-year-old to make in the coming weeks.
The Eels, who see Bird principally as a lock forward, have the resources to match the $900,000 a season the Knights are tempting him with. That dwarfs the $2 million over three years that the Sharks are said to have offered the NSW State of Origin player.
Bird is on record saying that determining his future is as much about opportunity – as in, the position he is playing – as it is money, and with places in the halves and at fullback tied up at Cronulla the cash lobbed at him by Parramatta will be difficult to ignore.
“I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be doing next year,” Bird said. “Obviously I want to stay at the Sharks. I love the club, I love the place and fingers crossed I stay here but we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.
“It’s a big decision. I made a new home here at the Sharks and if I was to leave it would break my heart. I want to stay here but it comes down to what’s best for myself and my family.”
The Sharks’ efforts to retain off-contract Bird may be hurt by the fact they have already re-signed fullback Valentine Holmes to a two-year extension, are likely to have to spend handsomely on captain-in-waiting Wade Graham, whose deal is also up at the end of the season, and could still hand long-time leader Paul Gallen one more year.
Bird started at fullback against the Dragons on Sunday night in Holmes’ first game back from injury but the latter is likely to reclaim that position once he’s fully settled back into the top grade.
It is clear the Blues star does not see himself as a centre in the long run, though, and that will be central to his decision. Parramatta don’t plan on playing him in the halves – they are happy with the progress of Clint Gutherson as Corey Norman’s offsider – but he would still see plenty of the ball at lock.
“In recent interviews obviously I’ve said I want to be around the ball a lot more. It pretty much comes down to position-wise where I’m happy. I’m happy here obviously but I think I’d be a lot more happier if I’m around the ball,” Bird said.
“Obviously you’ve got to set yourself up money-wise. It’s just a hard decision for me to make. I think about it a lot but I try and concentrate on the games. When it happens it happens.
“If you’re head is somewhere else you’re not going to play your best footy. If it comes to it then I’m sure I”ll make the right decision. We’ll just have to wait and see in the next few weeks.”
Bird maintains a decision is not imminent – “It’s no rush for me” – and he is in continued discussions about a new deal with the Sharks. “I’ve still got to go through some things with Cronulla and see what they can do for me,” he said.
Coincidentally, Cronulla take on Parramatta at ANZ Stadium on Saturday. If Bird is undecided about his long-term future, what he is certain about is where the Sharks need to improve after not looking like recent premiership winners on Sunday night.
“It all just comes down to attitude, and our attitude wasn’t there [against the Dragons],” Bird said. “I’m sure we’ll bounce back next against Parramatta. If we don’t, it’ll be the same score.”