Jamal Idris: “I Need A Break”

Canterbury - Jamal IdrisBy STEVE MASCORD
PENRITH centre Jamal Idris has declared his return to Sydney a qualified success but admits he needs a break to decompress and prevent himself going ‘walkabout’ in games.
Idris joined Penrith from Gold Coast nine games ago and although his form has started to nudge in the direction of the year he played his only Test for Australia, 2011, he says the Panthers’ round 11 bye can’t come soon enough.
“It’s been awesome being back in Sydney, especially with my family and stuff,” Idris tells League Week after Sunday’s 26-20 win over Canberra.
“I’ve kept my head down a bit. For me, I need this break. I’m not your typical football player. Most of them live and breath football. If I think about too much football, I get a little bit too flustered, then I go walkabout.
“Yeah, I’ll be better for the break.”
Idris says he wants to be at his best when he returns to the State of Origin era but won’t go as far as admitting he’s not ready. “‘If I’m going to play, I’ve got to be ready in my own head,” he said.
Discussing the fiery GIO Stadium clash in which Raiders captain Terry Campese accused an un-named Raider of a head-butt, Irdis said: “Everyone was pretty amped. I went in to settle Campo down. You can’t stay mad at him.
“I heard ‘headbutt’. I came in from the centres. I was out there looking at the crowd.
“It would be stressful for them, coming off two defeats like that. They came out there and performed. To pull out a game like that, when all odds were against them … a lot of teams would have rolled over.
“That’s probably why it was fiery – they wanted to win.”
Penrith go into the bye in third place with six wins and four lossts.
“I think we’re good at the moment.” the centre reckons. “We haven’t had back-to-back wins and a lot of critics have been on our backs about it as well.
“For us to come down to Canberra and pull out a victory heading into a bye – that’s a 10 day turn-around.
“That’s major for us.”

Note: Since this story appeared, Jamal Idris has been granted indefinite leave by Penrith

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

The A-List: JAMAL IDRIS (Gold Coast, NSW, Indigenous Allstars & Australia)

Canterbury - Jamal IdrisBy STEVE MASCORD

“The first few swings missed me, I ducked back and it went across my face. The next time it got me…”

Jamal Idris is talking about September 2010 in Forster, where – at a family gathering – he was attacked with a samurai sword.

“The sword sat there for a while so it got fair rusty. Thank God. It was a fair big sword too, it was about the size of my arm or so.

“… it bounced off my neck. What can you do?

“(The assailant) put himself in two days later, he was in for a while, got back out, and he was in again for a while. Obviously, he’s my cousin. He got out again, then he went back in again. I think he’s been in, maybe, two or three times since then.”

That is, in jail. In almost any other area of journalism, this would be an extraordinary and disturbing conversation. But Idris, 192cm and seemingly still growing, just sits there and smiles as he tells it.

We are in the foyer of what used to be the Titans’ Centre of Excellence, one Thursday afternoon. Idris is still recovering from the leg injury which prematurely ended his season. Training has finished for the day and he says he hasn’t got anything better to do than chat to A-List.

No subject is off-limits. For all the brutality of his profession, Idris is an ingénue, a man unable or unwilling to be as cold and dispassionate as his contemporaries. The topics veer from his litany of injuries, moving to the second row, African rugby league and his new academic pursuit, journalism.

But the most moving subjects are family, racism and bigotry. Jamal’s childhood on the NSW mid-north coast looms large for him, and he seems to harbour a deep sense of having being wronged since he walked through a set of gates that led to the outside world.

“I did grow up with a strong sense of family but I grew up in an aboriginal mission,” he explains. “You go outside them gates … when I was younger I did walk into a shop and they kicked me out because they thought I was stealing. I sat there and I looked at them and I was, like, ‘are you serious?’, and they were ‘get the eff out of my shop, you’re stealing you effing black, yada yada yada’. I was maybe 13, 14 years old.

“You don’t understand racism as a kid but as you get older you start to see it and you see your cousins getting arrested, you see people in your family being stopped by cop cars as they walk down the street, and you sit there and you start saying ‘what’s going on?’ You start thinking the world’s against you.”

To illustrate his viewpoint, Idris describes a schoolyard fight in which he punched a kid three years his senior for a racist slur.

“As a kid, you don’t understand. I looked at it, like, he can say anything he wants and I can’t do anything about it. I felt helpless. He (principal) said ‘I’m going to ring your mum’. I stood up, I was in year three so I was seven or eight or so, and I said ‘fine, effing call my mum” and I walked out.

“It all falls back on the parents, that kind of racism. Kids don’t walk around saying those kind of things. Where have they heard it?”

The 23-year-old Australian international recently spoke out against a parent who described a 13-year-old Mudgeeraba Redbacks player as a “fucking nigger” from the sidelines and finds suggestions that racism is fading laughable.

“It’s not in the past, it does happen, that’s stupid,” he says. “The people who believe that aren’t opening their eyes. That annoys me when they say it doesn’t happen anymore. Are you kidding me? Australia’s a young country, of course it’s still happening. It’s frustrating, man.

“That little kid .. he’s a grown man, this is a kid on the field. Who does he think he is?”

Like Jamie Soward and Scott Prince, Idris is taking an interest in journalism and media as a career after football. Like both of them, he has had his run-in with the fourth estate. Those baby-fat photos from a couple of years ago have left much more of a scar than the samurai sword.

“I was 17 or 18 years old and for a bloke to come out and write something like that …. why doesn’t he look at the people in his family, why doesn’t he look at the people in his life. What’s he doing?

“You’re walking down the street and someone’s saying something. You pick up the paper and someone’s saying something. All I do is read the person’s name who wrote that and the next time they try to talk to me – good luck!

“There’s a lot of criticism that’s constructive. If they’re criticising something that I didn’t realise, I’ll look at it and go ‘fair enough, what can you say?’.”

Likewise, Idris was shaken by criticism of his form last year when he was battling the effects of a congenital hip problem, which required surgery. “All of a sudden, round five this year, people say ‘what’s the difference, what’s the difference?’.

“The difference is: I’m not injured. I can run. I can play. The people that who were bagging me are all of a sudden sitting there sucking up to me.

“People look in from the outside and say ‘he must be disappointed, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do that’. I’m happy and blessed every time I run onto a field. When I’m most upset is when I am injured.”

Playing for Canterbury in Sydney between 2008 and 2011, Idris found these two issues – race and celebrity – forming a poisonous combination.

“I got real flustered in Sydney,” Idris says. “In Sydney, you walk down the street and people go for Parramatta. Just because you play for Bulldogs, they want to fight you. There’s so many teams in one area, they think it’s their right to say whatever they want.

“I used to be a fan when I was a kid. I used to love supporting it. But, you know, if you don’t support someone and their team, it doesn’t give you the right to go beyond that and start insulting their family, insulting their race. Insult the team, say what you want, whatever. But for me personally, that’s going too far.’

But, as detailed at the start of this story, Jamal found that even Forster stopped being a refuge after he had become a big star in the city.

“Some of my family members, if I don’t go back to Forster for a year, because I’m playing football, I come back at Christmas time and they say ‘what, you think you’re too good for us because you play football?’ Simple little comments like that and it gets exaggerated when they drink alcohol, you know what I mean?

“You’d go out in the Cross and someone would try start a fight with you, argue with you, and you’d see his mate filming it. Sure enough, you look at the paper the next day and they say ‘so and so was out at this time having a fight’ They don’t say what led into it.

“When they were talking about Choccy Watmough and Matai, when they got bashed and jumped by five or six blokes at, I think, Stevie Matai’s house, and they turned it so negative on him. I thought, ‘they’re victims. They’re at home. They got jumped. What’s going on? Should they not breathe?’

“At the end of the day, why so negative on us? For trying to live a normal life? They go ‘oh, you’re a role model’. We are role models, we go out and do the right thing. They don’t put in the paper every time we go to children’s events or a hospital but they’ll put it in every time they see us out or they see someone blowing up at us or there’s a scrap.

“You know why? Because it sells papers.”

Idris says he’d like to try coaching as well as media work upon retirement. He’s been paying his own way to away matches to cheer on the Titans. He’s anxious to move into the forwards, saying it probably suits his game more. And over the next two months, he will travel to Nigeria and meet pioneers trying to start rugby league there.

“Africans as a race: fast twitch muscles, we’ve got all the skills,” he says enthusiastically. “In saying that, we’ve got to get our hands right.”

Hang on, isn’t that racial stereotyping? “I am African,” he responds. “I said ‘we’, I didn’t say ‘they’.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

THE JOY OF SIX: Round 16

The Joy Of SixBy STEVE MASCORD
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
TIME for a history lesson. In rugby league we used to have no replacements and men would play on with horrendous injuries. Then we had two replacements, then four, and it happened less often. Then we had interchange. We used to have nothing between a sending-off and a penalty. There used to be no sin bin, no video review. Dirty and violent play decreased when they were introduced. You used to be able to play on with blood pouring out of a wound. Then we had the blood bin. Until two years ago, most players who were concussed continued on as a sign of courage. Until a year ago, there were shoulder charges. And until last Wednesday, there was bare-knuckle punching and brawls in rugby league. Save your breath, don’t fight the future. To quote Pearl Jam, it’s evolution, baby.
HALF A CHANCE?
WHILE most observers would regard replacing both NSW’s halves for Origin III as not so much hitting the panic button as pulverising it, Queensland great Gorden Tallis says the one combination he doesn’t want to see in blue is the South Sydney pairing of John Sutton and Adam Reynolds. “Would they be out of place in a sky blue jersey?” Tallis said on Triple M. “I’m going to be biased, I don’t want to see them in a sky blue jersey.” The pair’s coach, Michael Maguire, is usually reluctant to push his charges for representative selection but said: “It’s good for Souths (they’re not there) but they’d definitely be able to handle that arena. They just get better and better. Johnny Sutton just kicks the team around the park and Reyno kicks them around the park. I’m glad we’ve got both of them.”
RESERVES DRAGON THE CHAIN
WHAT’S wrong with the Dragons? You can point to the absence of a long kicking game, lack of creativity, injuries and more. But according to coach Steve Price – on Saturday night in the 25-10 loss to Penrith at least – it was their bench. “As a coach, I’m really looking for a lot more from my interchange bench,” said Price. “There were too many errors and penalties to come out of our interchange bench. That first eight minutes after halftime, we were bogged down defending our goal line for the first eight sets. That should not happen after halftime.” Amid reports that St George Illawarra had gone cold on Canberra halfback Sam Williams, Price said he was “not sure” if the Country Origin rep would join them next year. And although Penrith were briefly in the top eight at the weekend, their coach Ivan Cleary still says: “We are in a rebuilding year …”
BREAKING POINT FOR TITANS
THE departure of Jamali Idris with a broken ankle turned yesterday’s Newcastle-Gold Coast game irrevocably, with Newcastle providing the most ruthless exploitation in recent memory of a missing defensive player. But it could also have altered Gold Coast’s 2013 campaign just as decisively. Brad Takairangi is out until round 19 with a rib injury and yesterday PNG winger David Mead was forced to fill in as a centre. Luke O’Dwyer will be one centre. Marmin Barba, brother of Ben, could be ready for a call-up with William Zillman switching to the threequarterline. It’s been a good season so far for coach John Cartwright; tougher times are ahead. By the way, stats whiz David Middleton can’t ever recall a penalty try and a (possible) eight-point try occurring before.
A HULL OF A TIME
LAST year, Brett Finch gave up being a starting half for arguably the most famous rugby league club in the world, Wigan, to be back-up at Melbourne Storm and play NSW Cup. Craig Gower started this season as club captain at London Broncos and walked out to play off the bench on a modest wage in Newcastle. And now Michael Dobson has handed in the captain’s role at Newcastle to potentially be behind Gower in the pecking order at New Lambton. Super League’s stocks are sinking by the day and if the Rugby Football League are going to introduce an A-League-style marquee players system, as has been discussed, they had better fast-track it or there’ll be no marquee players left. It’s got to the point that RFL is considering another Socceroos measure – playing internationals on the other side of the world because that’s where the players are.
WHAT’S NEW? NOT QUEENSLAND WINNING
LATE on Wednesday night, some of my radio colleagues criticised the print media for zeroing in on the mass sin bin dismissals at the post-match media conference. According to them, “negative stories sell papers”. But that’s not the rationale at all. The word “news” comes from the same place as “comics” and “funnies”. The news is, literally, “stuff that’s new”. Queensland winning an Origin game is NOT new – it’s happened 49 times. Eleven players facing 11 in an Origin game, on the other hand, was rightly described by Ray Warren as “an historic period”. It IS new! Couple that with the fact just about everyone buying a paper in NSW and Queensland the next day would have seen the game, and getting reaction to the use of the sin bin was the biggest no brainer of the season for any trained journalist, none of whom would have had “selling papers” on their minds as they raced to meet deadlines.

Filed for SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

Idris Was Close To Return Against Storm

Canterbury - Jamal IdrisBy STEVE MASCORD

FORMER Australia star Jamal Idris says he was agonisingly close to making his return from a broken leg against Melbourne this weekend and is “locked in” for the first week of the finals if Gold Coast make it.

The Titans arrived in Melbourne late Thursday for a match on Saturday they must win – and hope other results go their way – if they are to qualify for the finals.

Storm officials have an eye on Gold Coast’s Idris, Nate Myles (ankle), David Mead (back) and William Zillman (back). Of those, only Myles, who will make a desperate bid to be fit, was named in coach John Carwright’s squad.

But Idris told Fairfax Media he would not be a late inclusion and planned to watch the game on television.

“Yes,” Idris said when asked if he was a chance of playing at AAMI Park.

“I was running and stuff. But in saying that, it didn’t really justify me coming back if I was only 50-50. There was still a slight chance of me being injured again.

“Then I wouldn’t be back until next year.”

Mark Ioane is the man on standby for Myles, who suffered a suspected syndesmosis of the ankle in the upset win over Sydney Roosters on Sunday.

Ioane, who travelled as 18th man, is well short of match fitness, having not played in six weeks due to a knee injury.

Livewire halfback Albert Kelly is another injury doubt for Gold Coast; he aggravated a sternum injury at Allianz Stadium.

If the Titans were to win, it would be the first time they have ever beaten Melbourne twice in a season.

The Storm have won four of their last five against the team from the tourist strip and fullback Billy Slater has scored seven tries in his last four games against them.

NB: Since this story appeared, Gold Coast was eliminated from the finals race with a 23-22 defeat to Melbourne.

Filed for: THE AGE

NRL round 11: GOLD COAST 42 PARRAMATTA 4 at Glen Willow Sporting Complex, Mudgee

By STEVE MASCORD
JAMAL Idris bore the inscription “revenge” on wrist strapping, aimed a critics who labelled him fat and lazy last year. Yesterday the giant Gold Coast centre had a country picnic at the expense of Parramatta.
Before 9132 fans at Mudgee’s Glen Willow Sporting Complex – not many shy of the central western New South Wales’ town’s entire population – Idris scored two tries and set up another as the Titans easily dispatched a Parramatta side that their coach described as “not up to first grade standard”.
“If you were Queensland, I don’t think you’d want him there, the way he’s playing,” coach John Cartwright said of the 200cm, 117 kg threequarter after the Titans biggest-ever win.
“He’s in a really good space at the moment. He’s playing great footy. Today was probably one of his better performances but he’s been consistent all year.
“He got a lot of clean ball, early ball and he caused some damage.”
The Australian asked Titans officials to check on the meaning of the “revenge” line and was told it was aimed that those unaware of his injury battles last season who criticised him over his weight and form. “Footy’s all he wants to talk about at the moment,” Cartwright said.
Whatever their motivation, it was a thorough belting that the Titans meted out after the scores were 12-4 at halftime.
“It was unacceptable … we’re not up to it,” said Stuart, whose side has lost five of their last six.
“That’s not first grade standard. We made fundamental errors in attack and defence. That’s schoolboy errors out there today.
“They either get up to the standard or they don’t play first grade.
“I thought Jarryd (Hayne) had a go today, along with three or four others but there were a lot of other players I was disappointed in.”
The Titans scored early through winger Anthony Don, who Hayne tried to bluff into a premature pass when faced with two attackers but Parramatta managed to hit back via Ken Sio in the ninth minute.
There was a re-emerge of the ‘prowler’ tackle during the game, with Titans captain Nate Myles complaining to the referees about the practise and Parramatta’s Tim Mannah responding that Gold Coast was doing it to.
Titan Ryan James came off with a knee injury suffered in one such challenge – which drew a penalty – in the second half but later returned.
Having lost a game on a try incorrectly allowed to Warrior Shaun Johnson – who tapped the ball forward intentionally – on May 6, the Titans were again the victims when the call went the other way against their own no.7 Albert Kelly at the half hour mark.
Filipino winger Kevin Gordon, sporting a new kabuki-style haircut, got the first of his two tries just before halftime but at that point, Stuart thought his men were still in it.
His view altered after the break.
Idris barged over from close range in the 48th minute, fellow centre Brad Taikarangi got his share of the spoils seven minutes later, Kelly belatedly joined the scoresheet after another seven elapsed and Idris’ defence layed the foundation for Gordon’s second.
Stuart said he gaveHayne a spell in the last few minutes but a trainer was seen checking the fullback’s stomach before he came off. He shared a car with rival Greg Bird back to Sydney last night.
Asked if he felt his side had previously turned the corner, Stuart said: “We are a long way from the corner.
“We have systems in place. The systems are difficult to perform and action. But we can’t take any shortcuts. The systems are correct in the game of rugby league and it’s up to us to be able to get to the standard where we’re able to perform them.”
Asked if there was anything positive out of the game, he said: “Yeah, it finished.”

GOLD COAST 42 (K Gordon 2 J Idris 2 A Don K Gordon A Kelly A Sezer 7 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 4 (K Sio try) at Glen Willow Sporting Complex, Mudgee. Referees: G Reynolds/M Cecchin. Crowd: 9132.

Filed for: THE AUSTRALIAN

Best New Face – A Blessing Or A Curse?

players pollBy STEVE MASCORD
IT’S the ultimate “Where Are They Now?”.
Since 1986, Rugby League Week has been asking 100 players a year who they rated the best new face in the game. That’s right, ‘Best New Face’ – not rookie, a word which carries plenty of rules and regulations on its back.
If you were perceived by your peers to be a “new face”, you were eligible.
The honour roll contains some of the biggest names in our game – Laurie Daley (1988), Steve Menzies (1994) and Greg Inglis (2006).
There’s also a preponderance of men who chose to take the road less travelled later in their careers and railed against the establishment – perhaps an indication that these sort of rebellious characters inspire instinctive admiration in their fellow players.
Craig Gower (1997) Mark McLinden (1998), Karmichael Hunt (2004), Sonny Bill Williams (2005) and Israel Folau (2007) were all spotted by the players at an early age as being destined for greatness. They were eventually spotted – and poached – by rival codes, as well.
Others in our list became steady, reliable first graders without becoming regular internationals – men like Darrell Trindall (1991), Matt Seers (1995), Colin Best (1999), Brett Firman (2003) and, so far, Chris Sandow (2008).
Our first two winners were Ian Roberts and Peter Jackson. Roberts became the first openly gay Australian rugby league player while Jackson played nine Tests for Australia before – tragically – dying of a drug overdose in 1997.
Jason Martin (1990) released a pop single under the tutelage of Molly Meldrum. After decrying the cold of Canberra for most of his career, Fijian Noa Nadruku (1993) ended up retiring in the national capital.
Braith Anasta (2001) probably loved the Players Poll that year but grew to loathe it when colleagues voted him “most over-rated” in subsequent seasons.
And then there are those who, to use the vernacular, didn’t kicked on so much. This group is led by 1992 winner David Seidenkamp.
The message from the list on this page is clear: just because you were voted by your peers as most likely to succeed, doesn’t mean you will. Scanning the honour board should give this year’s winner cause for excitement and caution in equal measure.
“There’s a reason they call it Second Year Syndrome,” says Daley, who will coach NSW in this year’s Origin series.
“When you pop up out of the ground, you can catch opponents by surprise. But then they analyse you and learn what you’re about.
“It’s easy when you’re a nobody. It’s much harder when you’ve started to become a somebody.”
Perhaps the five most recent winners should be the ones who inspire the most caution.
CHRIS SANDOW (2008) looked like he had the world at his feet. At the end of 2011, he moved from South Sydney to Parramatta on a contract Rabbitohs owner Russell Crowe claimed on Twitter to be valued at $550,000 per season. The Eels finished last in his debut season there and he hasn’t been sighted in rep football.
JAMAL IDRIS (2009) was spotted well before his representative debut. He played for Australia in 2010 and looked unstoppable. At the end of the season, he was struck in the neck by a sword wielded by a cousin at Christmas. Four months later, he announced he would be joining Gold Coast in 2012. As was the case with Sandow, his debut season with a new club was a poor one for the whole team. He has not added to his solitary Australian and NSW appearances.
JOSH DUGAN (2010) was another ‘New Face’ that seemed to be pointed towards the heavens. He represented Country that year and the following season, the NRL All Stars and NSW. At the time of writing, his fall from grace has been the most spectacular of anyone to have won this category. He does not even have a club after he posted a picture of himself on Instagram drinking a pineapple cruiser when he should have been at training. His career remains in limbo.
TARIQ SIMS (2011) has suffered setbacks of another kind, breaking a leg twice since he burst onto the scene with North Queensland and gained selection in preliminary NSW squads. Sims’ has made another comeback this year, with the help of the plated ‘Terminator leg’, but his field time has been restricted so far this season.
So far in 2013, last year’s BNF
ADAM REYNOLDS (2012) hasn’t put a foot wrong and is pressing Daley for Origin inclusion. Reynolds seems mature beyond his years, isn’t contemplating any ill-advised changes of clubs and has not been seen with any pineapple cruisers. But injury is always hovering nearby, waiting to interrupt an otherwise promising career.
“If you ask me what I look for in a young player,” says Gower, now with London Broncos after a stint in French rugby union, “I would say consistency.
“Adam Reynolds, he’s doing his role for the team well. The way he is running the ship for Souths, he is organising attack, his defence is good, he seems to have a good kicking game.
“You keep doing that and eventually you start making breaks and suddenly you’ve had a GREAT game and then the media and the fans and everyone starts noticing you.”
Gower, now 34, doesn’t remember being voted the best new player across both competitions, the ARL and Super League, in 2013.
“But I know it was a good year,” he says. “I started the year at hooker, changed positions, played for New South Wales, went away on tour at the end of the year and played halfback in a great Australian side.
“There was Bradley Clyde and Laurie Daley and Ryan Girdler. I played halfback and kicked on from there.
“If you look at that list, most of them went on to play a reasonable about of footIball. Some of those guys like Idris and Sandow changed club and maybe that slowed them down and Sims got injured.
“But they’re pretty good footballers. I reckon they’ve got some good footy ahead of them, all of them.”
Daley is one of the few men on our list whose trajectory continued – with only injury enforced interruptions – for his entire career after being earmarked at an early age as a future great. His form did not suffer significant lulls, he did not go to another sport or fall victim to a major off-field controversy.
Steve Menzies, Ben Kennedy and Greg Inglis would be the others in this category.
“I was lucky,” he reflects. “I had Mal Meninga and these fellas in the team and Tim Sheens coaching and if you got too big for your boots, they’d knock you down a peg or two.
“I was surrounded by good players but also players who would pull you into line.”
Twenty-five years – is it really that long – since Daley was voted by his peers at the best new player in rugby league, he has advice for this years’ hot-right-now superstar.
“It’s great to get accolades but all it shows is that you’re doing something good right now, that people are starting to notice you,” he says.
“It doesn’t mean you should stop preparing exactly the way you did last year.
“It does mean you are starting to win people’s respect. It takes a long time to win respect.
“But it doesn’t take long to lose it.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK

Titans To Unveil Private Combinations In Derby

Greg Bird 2By STEVE MASCORD

CO-CAPTAIN Greg Bird has issued a pre-derby warning that private combinations honed during the summer by staying back after training are on the verge of bearing fruit for the Titans.

Back-rower Bird tells Rugby League Week Gold Coast stars have worked on attacking formations in their spare time, in position-specific groups,  and the tricks nutted out during a long, hot off-season are now being tried on opposition defences.

The Titans go into Friday night’s Skilled Park showdown with Brisbane in better shape than their ‘big brothers’,  with just one defeat from the opening month of the season compared with the Broncos’ 1-3 record.

“As you watch, week-in, week out, you’ll see little combinations working,” says Bird, “like Jamal (Idris) and David Mead, they’ve been doing things.

“Albert Kelly and Matty Srama around the rucks have been doing a bit.

“We’ve seen a little bit but they’ll keep getting better.  If we keep our focus on our defence and let the individuals work out their combinations,  that’s going to be best thing for us.

“The onus has been put on the players. Carty (coach John Cartwright) hasn’t been putting us in groups and saying ‘work your stuff out’.

“It’s been after training, blokes have been getting together and working on their little combinations and I think that’s the best part about it.

“It hasn’t been coach-enforced or senior player-enforced. The onus has purely been put on them and I think it’s been showing.”

Bird also gave RLW an insight into the areas he has been focusing on with the players around him.

“I do a bit of work with Aiden Sezer on our edge – just picking when he’s going to run and trying to push into holes because he’s such a strong runner,” he said.

“It’s such a stong part of his game that I’ve got to try and keep an eye on him because he’s so deceptive … and getting that offload ready for Willy Zillman, that’s been one of our strengths as well.”

The Australia star says St George Illawarra’s win over Cronulla on Saturday proves that there is no room for complacency in derbies.

“That’s the thing about rivalries and the thing about the derbies – where you are on the table doesn’t matter,” Bird said.

“The local derbies, everything comes out. The emotions come out. Fans come out of nowhere. The winner of the game is all about who’s most passionate, who is most determined on the night.

“They’ve got a strong forward pack, very similar to us. The Benny Hannants and the Matt Gilletts will be out to prove a point.”

Titans players previously told us new trainer Dan Ferris with their improvements this year.

“The focus on our defence has been a big thing,” says Bird. “We’re trying to hold teams our rather than putting all our emphasis into scoring points.”

Filed for: RUGBY LEAGUE WEEK