Jayden Okunbor will make his NRL debut for the Bulldogs this weekend. Picture: David Swift.
Jayden Okunbor will make his NRL debut for the Bulldogs this weekend. Picture: David Swift.

Bulldogs pup wants to be NRL’s greatest African

ALL dreadlocks, flair and exuberant youth, Jayden Okunbor stood in the hallowed bowels of Belmore Oval and made the bold declaration that he would become the best African to ever play in the NRL.

"And then I turned and saw Moses Mbye,'' Okunbor remembers.

"I said it in front of him.''

Whoops.

Just 18 and midway through his first NRL pre-season, the Nigerian giant had just told Mbye he was coming for him. Going to be better than him one day.

"He just kind of looked at me and laughed,'' Okunbor said.

"Moses is of Gambian heritage so I don't know if he took it as a threat. It was just one of those things."

Four years later, the 196cm winger is set to go head-to-head with Wests Tigers captain Mbye in his NRL debut at Campbelltown Stadium on Sunday.

Okunbor joins Nick Meaney and Rhyse Martin in a new-look team after coach Dean Pay wielded the axe on his underperforming Bulldogs.

Okunbor wants to be the best African to ever play in the NRL. Picture: David Swift.
Okunbor wants to be the best African to ever play in the NRL. Picture: David Swift.

"It will come full circle this week when I get to play him,'' Okunbor said of Mbye.

"He is a really good guy and someone I also got on well with. He actually took me under his wing and really helped me out a lot."

And it was then Okunbor laid out his inadvertent challenge

"We did a task where we were asked to set a life goal and that was mine," he said.

"He obviously wants to be the best and so do I.

"It is something I want to do. Something I hope I can make happen."

Okunbor shook Pay's hand twice on Monday after the Milperra Colts junior after learning of his impending debut.

The son of a Nigerian immigrant who moved to Australia 28 years ago, Okunbor will replace Christian Crichton on the wing.

"I shook his hand when he told me and then did it again,'' Okunbur said.

Okunbor in action during his time with the Bulldogs U20s. Picture: Brett Costello
Okunbor in action during his time with the Bulldogs U20s. Picture: Brett Costello

"I wasn't sure if I came off grateful (enough) the first time so I just wanted him to know how much it meant to me.

"He is the first coach to believe in me and it really means a lot to me. I have been here since I was 13 so it is just a dream come true.''

Okunbor, 22, has had to wait four years to get his chance after being promoted to the Bulldogs full-time training squad in 2016.

"I did my first pre-season under Des (Hasler) when I was 18,''Okunbor said.

"But this is my first year in the top 30. I have just waited for my time and now I get my opportunity. There were times when it got a bit tough but I knew if I stuck with it I'd be OK.''

Okunbor said a stint playing park football gave him the motivation he needed to make the NRL.

"I wasn't playing very good football,'' Okunbor said.

"I was doing a few too many errors and my defence wasn't good enough. I was dropped down to play for Cabramatta. I went there and that footy was pretty tough. There were a lot of guys there that just wanted to bash you. I came back stronger after that.''

A gifted athlete, 108kg Okunbor holds a national shot-put record and was a junior NSW Blues cricket player.

The Jamal Idris doppelganger hopes he can help kick-start the Bulldogs' season by putting some excitement back into the attack.

"I just want to bring some energy,'' Okunbor said.

"Some excitement. I just want to come and play my game and help the boys. Obviously I want to get a win and that wold be massive if we can come home against the Tigers. I will play my game and hopefully it works out.''