Gritty Swans utility Craig Bird hopes to spend less time shutting down dangerous opponents this season and more showing his capabilities with the ball.
Bird has traditionally been used as a tagger by Sydney but, after a restructure due to Lewis Jetta’s injury last season, he shone as more of an on-baller.
Bird showed a similar ability to fill a void on Thursday night against West Coast when Luke Parker was forced out with an eye injury. He was a positive performer in the dour 35-point pre-season loss, grabbing 32 touches – second only to Ryan O’Keefe –11 contested possessions and five clearances.
“Hopefully I can play a bit more through the midfield this year instead of doing the lockdown roles that I’ve done previously,” Bird said.
“We didn’t have some of the regular starters so me, Ryan O’Keefe and Luke Parker had to lead the way a bit. When Parksy went down, we had one less in the midfield, so we had to step up a bit.
“It was tough at times but it was good to get a run out there. I’m pretty pleased with how I went. I’ve definitely got a lot of improving – I could have used the ball a bit better – but it was good to get a hit out and get my hands on the footy.”
Bird struggled for form early last season but was a consistent performer in the last 21 games, including the finals. He said his role week-to-week would depend on their opponents, but having a versatile midfield would serve the side well.
“We’ve got blokes who can do different jobs in the midfield and now guys like Tom Mitchell and Luke Parker stepping up, we’ve got a number of blokes who can run through there,” he said.
Coach John Longmire said he would play his strongest available side in the final pre-season match, against Brisbane next weekend, meaning the return of the likes of Jarrad McVeigh, Kieren Jack and Josh Kennedy. However, Parker is unlikely due to his eye injury.
“Thankfully the back of his eye seems OK and he will just require some rest as the blood at the front of his eye settles down,” Longmire said. “We hope to have him return for round one.”
The game on Thursday marked the return of veteran defender Lewis Roberts-Thomson, who had not played since injuring his knee in round four last year.
“The knee and my fitness felt strong and I definitely have something to build on,” he said afterwards.
“It was good to play down back. I’ve played a lot of footy with the guys down there like Reg [Heath Grundy], Mal [Nick Malceski] and Nick Smith.
“It was also really good to play alongside Jeremy Laidler and Dane Rampe because they are two guys I haven’t played footy with.”
Others who returned to action were Jetta, Mike Pyke and star recruit Lance Franklin, who each had injury-shortened pre-seasons.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.