KNIGHTS officials had an inkling that, one way or another, their interest in Greg Bird was never likely to deliver a dividend.
There were the integrity unit and police investigations, for starters. Should either have produced evidence of misconduct, after two alleged incidents at two North Coast hotels last month, all bets would have been off.
Newcastle chairman Brian McGuigan made that quite clear.
Then there was the speculation that Manly had belatedly tempted the 17-Test veteran with an offer.
But in the background was the rumour circulating that French Super League club Catalans Dragons wanted to land a marquee player and were waving a sizeable chequebook.
Their first two targets apparently resisted the bait.
Bird, perhaps realising that at 32 he had one last chance to cash in, signed on the dotted line – after negotiating one of the most remarkable deals in recent rugby history.
Catalans will reportedly pay him at least $2.5 million for the next five years, and Bird will have the option of making the transition from player to assistant coach at his discretion.
Gold Coast Titans were only to happy to release their controversy magnet from the final year of his contract. It saved them from agonising over whether to sack him.
Newcastle were never going to compete with the Catalans deal. They were reluctant to offer the former Maitland Red Dog anything longer than a two-year tenure.
In a statement on the Catalans website, Bird said he was honouring a promise made during his Super League stint in 2009.
“I had always intended to return to the Dragons and ... win a premiership,’’ Bird said.
“They reached out to me and offered me a long-term deal this week which I was only too happy to agree to.
“I have fond memories of my time at the Dragons, it’s a wonderful place to live and my wife and I are excited to be taking on this new chapter in our lives.”
For Newcastle, Bird’s decision is a setback from an on-field viewpoint.
But the powers-that-be were also well aware he would have been a gamble. Bird’s reputation for finding himself in close proximity to trouble is not unwarranted.
Even if he had behaved himself after hours, there was also his long and tainted judiciary record to consider.
Nonetheless, his decision means Knights officials have to return to the drawing board.
Newcastle CEO Matt Gidley said coach Nathan Brown and football manager Darren Mooney are considering a host of options, from minimum-wage rookies to top-tier representative stars.
“We haven’t put all our eggs in one basket,’’ Gidley said.
Most importantly, Gidley added, the Knights had to hold their nerve.
“We’re in a good position,’’ he said.
“We’ve got salary cap space and we just need to be patient until the right players become available.’’