Greg Bird strutted into the NRL Judiciary Casino, went all-in on a dangerous tackle charge downgrade…and went bust. The cost? An entire State of Origin campaign and an eight-match stint on the sidelines. Loading from a rash of similar incidents to the lifting tackle on Kiwis winger Jason Nightingale last Sunday brought the enforcer undone.
Because of bye weekends and the fact Origin games can’t count towards his suspension, the veteran backrower won’t feature for the Gold Coast Titans again until their Round 19 clash with Newcastle, a terrible setback for a plucky side light on experience and big names.
The ban is also a huge blow to NSW’s increasingly shaky title defence. One of the elder statesmen for the Blues, the 31-year-old is commonly referred to as an ‘Origin-type player’ – a tough, big-match performer who thrives in the interstate cauldron. He boasts three man-of-the-match awards at Origin level in 16 appearances since his 2007 debut.
But, quite conceivably, the ever-controversial Bird has played his last representative game. An ordinary display in the Kangaroos’ Anzac Test loss, his absence from the 2015 Origin campaign, and the emergence of outstanding tyros such as Josh Jackson, Boyd Cordner, Aidan Guerra, Dale Finucane, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Curtis Sironen, Bryce Cartwright and Tyrone Peachey, means the trouble-prone stalwart’s cards may already be marked as far as future sky-blue and green-and-gold jumpers are concerned.
Bird’s latest transgression has tarnished an impressive on-field legacy, cementing a reputation as a trouble-prone player that puts him in the same box as the likes of Les Boyd, John Hopoate and Luke O’Donnell. Statistics uncovered yesterday revealed Bird, who has now been slapped with 29 weeks’ worth of suspensions, as the fourth-most suspended player of the NRL era, behind Hopoate (45 weeks), O’Donnell and Craig Smith (both 32 weeks). Bird’s rap sheet began with a 10-week ban for kneeing Souths centre Shane Marteene in the head while playing for Cronulla in 2004.
The Newcastle junior has been far from a cleanskin off the field. A domestic assault charge in 2008 saw him exiled from the NRL for 18 months before the Titans threw him a lifeline. A public urination incident at the end of last year – which was blown out of all proportion – saw him stripped of the co-captaincy by the club, while he sat out the opening two rounds of the 2015 campaign due to a court appearance (along with several teammates) for alleged cocaine supply.
But his string of suspensions have been equally frustrating and damaging to his teams. A serial niggler, Bird’s passion and aggression are some of his biggest strengths – and the foremost reasons he is such a valued representative performer. The fact he is one of the most hated players ever north of the border is testament to his game-changing abilities as much as his ‘grub’ tactics.
For now, though, Bird has let his club, state and country down yet again via his hot-headed tendencies. It’s a well-worn storyline for the big-hitting, ball-playing, versatile 17-Test veteran, ensuring what would have been regarded as one of the finest modern-day Rugby League careers will predominantly be described with a chaser: “he was a great player, but…”.