“I was a bit nervous at the start but it was good to get the cobwebs out,” Bird said. “I only got the clearance from the surgeon a couple of weeks ago, then it was really up to me if I was confident enough to come out.
“I’ve pulled up sweet. I still ice the knee every day. When I jumped for that [Jayden Sullivan] kick, it was the first time I’ve jumped since I did my knee – I didn’t know I could jump any more.
“During the pre-season I was training in the middle and backrow, but to be honest I prefer to stay in the centres, and it’s a position I’m used to. We’ve got a few middles. I won a comp at centre [with Cronulla], I was right centre, but we’ve already got ‘Lowy’ [Zac Lomax] there, and I’m happy to play left. Whatever is best for the team. It’s up to ‘Hook’ [coach Anthony Griffin].”
McCullough, who only signed with the club on Monday, got 22 minutes before he was given a spell after Dragons twins Matt and Max Feagai combined to set up the first try of the evening at Kogarah.
McCullough was at Red Hill the day Bird ruptured his ACL last season and was glad his teammate survived his first-up hitout off a long, long spell. “It was a big box for him to tick, to get it done is a big plus,” McCullough said.
The hooker added he hoped to get through an hour against Souths next weekend in the Charity Shield.
This trial was never going to reach great heights with both clubs fielding mostly reserve-graders. They called the game with ten minutes remaining.
Sullivan again showed plenty of nice touches as he pushes his case to partner Ben Hunt in the halves for Corey Norman, who could learn his street-fight punishment from the NRL as early as Friday.
The Dragons in recent weeks have had to contend with Norman’s Cronulla punch-up – and his likely ban – Israel Folau’s disastrous short-lived recruitment drive – and the season-ending knee injury for Cronulla-bound skipper Cameron McInnes. A fit Bird and McCullough would be a bonus when the season gets under way.
For the Eels, coach Brad Arthur took the raps off his teenage son Jake, a lean and tall No. 7 who will thicken out – and potentially add a few inches in height – in the coming years.
Parramatta recruit Michael Oldfield, now playing at his sixth NRL club, injured his knee in the opening minutes and was forced from the field.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.