Paul Gallen wants Jack Bird to remain at Cronulla but has taken a pragmatic view as decision time looms for his fast-rising teammate, saying if the premiers were to lose only one of their off-contract players it could be seen as a good result.
Bird’s future beyond this season could be determined as soon as this week, with Parramatta and Newcastle having both made strong bids to lure the 22-year-old away from the Sutherland Shire.
For Cronulla, Bird is one of the last pieces of the puzzle in their efforts to keep their premiership side of last season largely intact. Wade Graham’s re-signing last Friday on a two-year extension left only halfback Chad Townsend and Bird as their prominent off-contract players as well as veteran captain Gallen himself, who is yet to decide whether he will play for one more year in 2018.
Bird has made it known that what position he plays – he wants to be near the ball, at five-eighth or fullback for instance, rather than at centre – is as important a criteria as money for him. And with Townsend and James Maloney in the halves at the Sharks, and Valentine Holmes at the back, there is increasing speculation he will leave for an opportunity elsewhere.
Gallen would hate to see that happen but is also seeing the bigger picture.
“The club have kept everyone so far that was off-contract. Him and Chad Townsend are the last two I think. I’d like to think Chad, being a local junior, would want to stay,” he said at a Triple M league lunch in Sydney. “If we only lose one, I think it’s a pretty good effort to be honest. Don’t get me wrong … I love the kid. I think he’s a great young bloke. He’s got that mentality – he doesn’t care what the world thinks, he’s got that arrogance but it’s a good arrogance and we all love it. I don’t want him to go one bit but if it was to happen from a club point of view – and I’m putting my club hat on – it could have been worse.”
The Eels, considered the favourites to sign Bird if he leaves Cronulla, view him either as a ball-playing lock or as a five-eighth in what would be a mouth-watering halves combination with Corey Norman. Gallen, however, says the best fit for Bird at the Sharks right now remains at centre.
“We all the want the ball. We all want to be the best player on the field but at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you’re the best player on the field if you’re not winning games,” said Gallen, who was key to Bird’s move to Cronulla from the Dragons after helping him in dealing with rheumatoid arthritis.
“I’ve learnt that over the years that it doesn’t matter. It’s about the team result and having a team-first mentality and attitude.
“You’ve got to play in the position that best suits that team. I think for us at the moment it’s him in that right centre spot so going forward that’s a decision for him, what he wants to play.
“Whatever’s the best decision for him is what advice I’d give him. It’s easy to try to put the club captain’s hat on and want him to stay at Cronulla but I think at the end of the day I’ve been in that position before, I don’t envy the position. It’s a hard position.
“The rumours are there is a lot of difference in what Cronulla is offering and what other clubs are offering. That’s going to be a decision for him. No one else can make that decision but him.