AS a four-year-old Stephen Bird loved the chance to run around with a football at Morse Park, having no idea his passion for rugby league would one day lead him to the World Cup.
Now an associate professor at James Cook University in Cairns, Bird has been recruited by Scotland Rugby League to help its players at this year’s Rugby League World Cup.
He has signed as the head of strength and conditioning/sport science for Scotland Rugby League.
That job came off the back of working with the Northern Pride Rugby League Football Club, a feeder team to NRL’s North Queensland Cowboys.
Not surprisingly, Bird is excited to be involved with the team and an event such as the Rugby League World Cup.
“I’ll be going away with the team when they arrive in Australia to go on their first camp and then be with the team when they play Tonga in Cairns,” Bird said.
“The following week we fly to Christchurch for them to play the Kiwis, then they fly back to Cairns and play Samoa.
“They’re in a really tough draw in that you couldn’t pick three more physically dominant teams in Tonga, Samoa and New Zealand.”
Though the international tournament does not start until October 27, Bird’s job has already begun.
“Our main role is looking at obviously strength and conditioning, but fatigue monitoring and recovery management of the playing group. That is going to be a big deal for us,” he said.
“You can look at it as a Formula 1 racing team. You’ve got the head engineer of a racing team, that’s the head coach, you have the driver, who is the athlete, then you have the mechanic who is the sports scientists-strength and conditioning coach.
“Our role is to try and keep the players as healthy as possible and put them in a physical condition where they they can implement the technical and tactical plan the coach puts forward.”
Bird, who also previously worked with NRL club Wests Tigers, sees the job as a combination of passions.
Not only has Bird worked hard to forge his reputation as a leader in the area of sport and exercise science, but he has long loved rugby league.
“It’s pretty cool, I don’t know how many people from Bathurst are going to the World Cup,” he said.
“I had my first game of rugby league when I was four or five years old and playing under 8s at Morse Park running around in the freezing frost.
“I started off with Charlestons, they were the team my dad was manager for, so I started off playing for them.
“Then I played with RSL, Railway, St Pat’s and Penguins, who went on to be the Panthers, then Panthers, so I’ve played with all the Bathurst teams.
“I played league for Group 10, Western Division, Country as a junior, under 16s, and got invited to trial with Cronulla, at that stage it was ’88 when they had president’s cup.
“Unfortunately I didn’t get a contract, that’s the way it goes, but to work with rugby league has always been something I wanted to do.
“Basically I finished playing when I was 22 and got a knee injury.”
Scotland will begin its Rugby League World Cup campaign on October 29 when it faces Tonga at Cairns’ Barlow Park.