Furious Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has taken aim at Wayne Bennett and slammed suggestions the NRL premiers are trying to talk Jack Bird out of defecting to Brisbane.
In a spicy precursor to Friday night’s high-stakes top-four clash with the Broncos, Flanagan said the Sharks had no plans to stand in Bird’s way and rubbished reports the club had been bullying the NSW State of Origin star since his lucrative signing in May.
“The Sharks have been at him ever since he signed with the Broncos,” Bird’s father Mick was quoted on Thursday by News Corp Australia.
“They haven’t left him alone and myself and Jack have had a gutful.”
Flanagan, though, denied the sharks had tried to “coerce” Bird into reneging on his four-year deal.
“Let’s all be really clear that Jack is going to Brisbane. There’s no talk about backflips; there’s no one in this organisation, that’s either me or the CEO, that he’s spoken to. None of that’s happened,” Flanagan said.
“It’s terrible. He’s shattered today, Jack … shattered about all this stuff that he’s supposed to be saying or supposed to be doing.
“None of it’s true.”
Not only offended by the reports “from north of the border”, Flanagan was also bemused at Bennett’s claim that Bird would thrive under the Broncos’ less-structured attack.
“I couldn’t give a damn what Wayne says. He can do what he likes. It doesn’t interest me,” he said.
“All the rubbish that he’s going to enjoy it more up there, all that stuff, I just don’t get it.
“Like, well done to the Broncos. They’ve signed a quality player and we’ll be looking after him, treating his injuries and sending him up there as a grand final-winning player.
“We’ll have great memories of Jack at our club. He’s a special player and he’ll hold a special part in this club’s history.
“But he’ll be there next year. We had our chance to keep him and he decided to go and we’ll live with that.”
Flanagan’s tirade came after Bennett earlier on Thursday said he felt compelled to “step in” and assure fans Bird would be a Brisbane player in 2018.
“Jack Bird is coming to the Broncos – full stop,” Bennett said.
End of debate, if not the two coaches’ seemingly needless war of words.