Luke Lewis says he supports teammate Jack Bird in securing his future and painted a difficult picture for NRL players and life after football.
It was announced last week that Bird would leave the reigning premiers Cronulla to join Brisbane on a rich four-year deal next season.
Lewis, the Sharks’ veteran back-rower, has been through his own contract stress when he decided to leave Penrith to head for the shire in 2013.
In his experience, Lewis said Bird had done the right thing – putting himself No.1.
“I always say you’re only one tackle away from flipping burgers,” Lewis said.
“You’ve really got to secure your future. You’ve got to look after yourself. If you’re lucky enough to have a career of 10 years you’ve got to try and set yourself up financially, make sure you can get into the property market and make sure you can pay it off in that time. Because when you get out of rugby league you’re back to square one. You’re starting again, you’re on minimum wage and you’ve got to find something that you’re passionate about and that you love.
“At the moment he’s doing something that he loves and he’s getting paid well for it. I don’t blame him, what he’s done.”
Bird has enjoyed a meteoric rise. The 22-year-old made his NRL debut for Cronulla in round four of the 2015 season, going on to be crowned NRL rookie of the year after also representing Country Origin. Last season he made his State of Origin debut for NSW and formed arguably the deadliest right-side combination in the competition with Lewis, Ben Barba and Valentine Holmes to help lead the Sharks to their historic first premiership.
Cronulla tried hard to keep Bird, with the club saying they made him its highest ever financial offer to secure a current player. But, despite re-signing Holmes, Wade Graham and Matt Prior in recent weeks, Bird still flew the coop to join Wayne Bennett and the Broncos.
Lewis said it was a difficult decision for such a young player.
“He had to make a decision based on himself and make sure his head was right. He’s done that,” he said.
“We all support him as players. We’re very fortunate we got to win a grand final with him and play a lot of footy with him coming through. We’re all sad to see him go but we know he had to do the right thing by Jack Bird and his family. He’s probably sat down with the right people, his mum and dad, to make the right decision.
“You sort of sit there and think how is he feeling. I’ve sort of been through it as well. I just said to him it’s probably going to feel a little bit weird knowing that you’re going to be at a different side. He said he felt like that for a couple of days but now it’s all over. All the boys are behind him, we know what he can do on the field. We just hope we can send him out the right way at the end of the season playing semi-final football.”
As for his own future, Lewis has four options but has already taken a couple off the table.
The 33-year-old ruled out retirement and finishing his career in the English Super League, with his desire to remain a Shark. After discussing his future with his wife, Lewis said he wanted to wait until round 14 to make a final decision.
“I feel like my head is in a really good space at the moment. My body is feeling amazing. I want to continue playing but I haven’t talked to anyone, I haven’t put it out there,” he said.
“I’m definitely not going to retire. I don’t think I’ll go overseas, to be brutally honest. That’s where my head is at at the moment. I want to keep playing in the NRL, I think it’s the best competition. And I’m very fortunate to have been playing in it for a while.
“I’d like to contribute to the Cronulla Sharks but it’s only early days. I know there’s a lot of other guys that are probably more important than getting myself signed. We’ve got a lot of young blokes that need to get sorted first. I’m not too stressed.”