Broncos centre Jack Bird is in the NSW Blues brains trust's sights and can make a compelling claim for a State of Origin recall when he lines up against Kiwi international Joseph Manu in the clash with the Sydney Roosters on Thursday night.
NSW advisor Greg Alexander has been watching an injury-free Bird closely in his opening three Telstra Premiership games for Brisbane and told NRL.com he "looks like the old Jack Bird of 2016", a season where he earned his NSW debut and won a premiership with Cronulla.
Bird, playing left centre for Brisbane, wants to test himself against the best and prove to NSW coach Brad Fittler that he is ready to resume his representative career which is why the match-up with Manu excites him.
"Manu is a great young player and full of confidence; he’s got a great step and palm and a lot of speed so it’s going to be a great challenge for me," Bird told NRL.com.
"I’ve been up against quality players before and I am confident I can do the job. It is going to be a great battle.
"I like a challenge and this is another step up, and you have to do that when you play Origin. If I can do well it is going to be a little bit of a head start but there are some good centres and players on the bench in this competition and I need to play well for the Broncs to show Freddy [Blues coach Brad Fittler] that I am ready to put my hand up again for Origin."
Bird has three try assists so far this year and is averaging 109 metres per game, double his return for last year. He is playing in the centres for Brisbane but his versatility also appeals to Alexander, who said a big game against Manu would only strengthen his cause for a recall.
The man known as 'Brandy' believes Bird is capable of filling multiple roles.
"Anyone that has a big game when you are up against class opposition, especially the defending premiers, or in the individual match-ups against noted rep players or good players…that certainly helps," Alexander told NRL.com.
"Jack can play anywhere really. I see him as a potential utility player. Jack can play in the centres. He can play five-eighth. He can even play in the forwards.
"He doesn’t need a centre to be missing for him to be a chance of making the side. Jack’s utility value is crucial as well. I’ve been impressed with him. It is just the way he is running and the confidence he is running with. He just looks better, after what was a wretched time for him last year with a shoulder and sternum [injury]."
Incumbent NSW centre James Roberts is battling an Achilles injury and will miss the Roosters clash. When he will return is unknown, but if the injury lingers on it could put his Origin hopes at risk.
"It's one of those injuries that's a tricky one. Anyone who has had an Achilles injury knows they come and go and when the pain is there it is hard to run," Broncos coach Anthony Seibold said.
"Jimmy has been hampered with that injury. We made a decision that he has to spend time getting it right and that's what he will do over the next few weeks. Whether it's one or two weeks or longer, we just have to work with the medical staff. When he is right again, we will make a decision on what we do."
While incumbency is still a huge advantage for the members of a Blues side that won the 2018 series, Alexander said NSW wanted fit and firing players in the side.
"It is important that everyone keeps playing well for their clubs. You want to pick a side full of form players," Alexander said.
"We did that last year. Blokes were in form in clubs that were going well. Form carries a fair bit of weight."