‘In reality, Jack needs about six weeks off’
BRISBANE's injury-hit season has suffered another crushing blow, with star recruit Jack Bird ruled out indefinitely in a move that could cost the struggling Bronco his NSW Origin jumper.
Bird has been scratched for Friday night's clash against the Roosters and coach Wayne Bennett admits he has no idea if Brisbane's $800,000 utility will be fit for next Thursday's showdown with Parramatta.
Bird's painful sternum injury has been plaguing him for almost three months.
The NSW Origin utility was determined to play through the pain barrier against the Roosters but Bennett fears the injury battle is eroding Bird's confidence as he fights to emerge from the worst slump of his career.
Broncos high-performance chief Jeremy Hickmans is confident Bird will not require another bout of surgery but said Brisbane's marquee purchase needs time out to make a full recovery.
"In reality, Jack needs about six weeks off with his sternum," Hickmans said.
"Jack is the same as any other football player, they don't want to take the time off.
"It's a painful injury, he's getting regular treatment and we're managing him the best we can week-to-week.
"He doesn't need surgery and we're confident it won't get any worse, but any time he gets a whack on his sternum, it can irritate it.
"He's wearing a guard to help out and at training we're doing less contact work with him.
"We're not putting him at risk by putting him out on the field. His sternum is not weak, it's just irritated.
"Unfortunately for Jack, it just needs rest to fully heal."
Bird's NSW Origin hopes hinge on the timing of his return.
Should he fail to face the Eels, he will have missed two club games ahead of the naming of the NSW and Queensland teams for Origin I, a scenario that would almost certainly see him overlooked by the Blues.
There was speculation Bennett omitted Bird due to his dismal form, but the Broncos coach yesterday insisted his decision was based purely on his injury situation.
"Jack's injured, that's why not he's playing," Bennett said.
"He's not fit to play, he's been ruled out by our doctors, full stop.
"I don't know how long Jack will be out. I haven't got a time frame on Jack yet. Our doctors have told me he's out this week and if it's longer than that, I don't know."
Tom Opacic was named in the centres to replace Bird, with teenage gun Gehamat Shibasaki brought on to the bench in what could be his NRL debut.
However, it is understood Bennett wait will until after Thursday's captain's run to confirm whether the Queensland under-20s centre will be in the 17.
Bennett has more experienced options in his squad of 21, including forward George Fai and Norths half Todd Murphy.
Fai made his NRL debut last year while 27-year-old Murphy is yet to play first grade but is a more experienced option.
The other players named in the 21 were Redcliffe rookie Kotoni Staggs and 18-year-old back-row sensation David Fifita, but Fifita is yet to even play in the Intrust Super Cup.