Up Front with Tony Butterfield

Maitland junior Greg Bird was again in the gun sights of the media this week for an alleged indiscretion that may cost him his job at the Gold Coast.

I hope the Gold Coast are true to form and adopt the ready-aim-fire approach and send him packing.

The Titans’ loss would be the Knights’ gain in my view.

I mean, if your brother went out with a group of mates and one of them played up a little, how is your brother to blame.

This is the bizarre logic some in the media have applied to "Birdy", and they are out of order.

Sure he has form.

But most allegations have been dismissed.

Sure, he is a wild bit of gear.

But he plays a game that requires precisely that.

The Knights are right to profile the best character traits in their recruitment strategy, but right now we need what Bird has to offer: experience, leadership, skill and mongrel.

Where our coaching staff are deficient, he can make up the gap.

He's been of sufficiently good character to be selected for state and country, so why are we in Newcastle taking such a lofty position about a bloke we cheer for every time State of Origin comes around.

It is only a game after all.

Facts are, he is one of the best in the business, is a local boy and he may become available.

Surely, with the right mindset and clear instructions, he has an enormous amount to offer the Knights’ young forwards over the next two years.

I'd imagine he would relish the challenge.

EXPERIENCE: Gold Coast enforcer Greg Bird in action against the Knights this year. Will he be playing for his home-town team in 2017? Picture: Getty Images

EXPERIENCE: Gold Coast enforcer Greg Bird in action against the Knights this year. Will he be playing for his home-town team in 2017? Picture: Getty Images

* AT this time of year I have mixed feelings about the footy.

Excited we're getting down to business, but deflated, because after this weekend, there’s only one game left.

All the junior and district footy is over, the posts are coming down, and presentations are all but over. Yep, the 2016 premiership drama has but one final act to play out.

But first we need to decide who will meet in the big dance.

I like the Sharks on Friday night.

A week off. Wade Graham and Paul Gallen repaired.

Coached to the minute by Shane Flanagan and in a good frame of mind.

A well-balanced team of committed and talented professionals, I fancy they will have too much. But I’ve been wrong before.

The poor old Cowboys, on the other hand, are literally limping to the line.

Granted, the reigning premiers have excelled in their defence of the title but their away record is average. Crucially, they, more than any other team, are busted.

Matt Scott needs a rest badly and their superstar captain Johnathan Thurston will still be feeling the effects of pushing his body to the limit in last week’s extra time, all the while suffering from a virus of some sort.

Even JT may not be able to overcome the jet-lag feeling one has during recovery from these things. 

But they never quit, these guys, and will leave nothing in the tank.

Melbourne and the Raiders will be a colossal battle. 

Great mates, but bitter rivals in the backyard, Ricky Stuart and Craig Bellamy will treat this as the biggest moment of their coaching careers.

Neither will have left a tactical stone unturned, and the thought in the build-up of possibly losing would likely make each physically ill. Again, the Storm are fresh and playing at home, but I like the Raiders.

Ask Ricky. They are on. 

I’m gonna say it now. As the last NSW team left I am throwing my full support behind the Sharks.

Fifty years young this year, having unsuccessfully turned out in grand finals on three occasions, they have the team this year if the right blokes fire, injuries don’t hamper, and Fifita doesn’t get a week’s suspension for a love tap and miss the big one.

Call me optimistic but the porch lights should be left on in the Shire next Sunday night, because the missing pride of the peninsula is finally coming home.

* THE standout performance of last week’s matches were by two young fellas in Cowboys winger Kaylin Ponga and back-rower Coen Hess.

Hess will start again on Friday, after going 90 minutes last week in a star-turn performance bettered only by the other JT, Jason Taumalolo.

But what about the 18-year-old debutant who started on the wing. Headgear and “not much meat on the bones”, he didn’t immediately impress I’ve got to say. That was before my young blokes briefed me on possibly the most exciting young player since Brad Fittler or Andrew Johns. In their eyes, this bloke could be bigger than both.

A quick round of Youtube videos and I was keen to see how this wunderkind went against men. Soon, I was correcting my young blokes as he was belted every time he got the ball. “See,’’ I said. “It takes a little more than some fancy footwork to succeed at this level.’’

And then it happened, finding space down the unfamiliar left edge. He mesmerised with speed, then literally tied everyone, including his own teammates, in knots as he nearly scored one of the greatest single-handed tries of the year. All this, on the very first time he found space.

Born in Port Hedland (that’s in Queensland?) and growing up in Bowen, this kid has the world, and not just league, at his feet. The Cowboys have been seen as wise by moving him through the 20s system slowly, not wanting to expose the slight frame to too much too soon. But injuries and desperation may again force their hand. If he gets a start tonight he's likely to do something special, assuming the big Shark pack doesn't gobble him up first.

For those who haven’t seen this guy, take a look.

LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KzsBoOcMqZI

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