Belmore to Nigeria and back: Tears for Okunbor's stirring NRL debut

The Bulldogs have mum Donna to thank for pushing a six-year-old Jayden Okunbor into his first pair of footy boots, and father Victor for the proud Nigerian heritage that has Canterbury's latest local junior gunning to become Africa's greatest rugby league export.

Okunbor is 196 centimetres, 108 kilos of dreadlocked born and bred Bulldog, slated for his NRL debut in Sunday's derby stoush with Wests Tigers.

Comparisons with former blue and white behemoth Jamal Idris are inevitable, so the 21-year-old winger embraces them.

He has also tried to recruit Idris for Nigerian Test duty at an end-of-season African nations championship in Lagos featuring the likes of Cameroon, Morocco and Ghana.

Four years ago in the Canterbury's inner sanctum, Okunbor told the club's top squad he wanted to be the best NRL player Africa has produced - Idris and then teammate, now opponent and Moses Mbye, who boasts Gambian heritage, included.

"In my first pre-season, we had a task upstairs where we had to put down our personal goal and lifelong goal," Okunbor grins.

"I said that in front of Moses and he sort of laughed at me and it's come full circle, I'm going to come up against him this week.

"We got on really well when he was here and it's something I've wanted to do and hopefully I can make it happen.

 
 
 
 
 
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Happy birthday to the real MVP of the Okunbor household, love you mum 💝👧🏼#therealmvp #victordrippinginswag

A post shared by Jayden Okunbor (@jayokunbor) on

"He was young when I was coming up and he sort of took me under his wing and helped me out a lot."

African roots may run deep, but the Okunbors are as Belmore as they come too.

Father Victor is rugby league mad according to the towering second-rower turned flyer, picking up the game after emigrating from Nigeria as a factory worker 25 years ago.

"Loves his footy and watches every game," Okunbor says.

"He thinks he knows a bit more than he does but that's every dad I guess."

Donna is just as besotted with the 13-player code, once nominated for a One Community award for her work with Okunbor's Milperra Colts junior outfit.

 
 
 
 
 
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On Sunday, a dream comes true. Mumma I made it ❤️ #proudtobeabulldog

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She's now officially a member of the Bulldogs fold, a Canterbury-Bankstown junior league coordinator.

Okunbor played his first game at Belmore Oval around the age of 12, and has been in Canterbury's system since 13 having also represented his state at cricket and athletics.

Tears were shed when her son's upcoming debut was known, and Donna told the club's website she will be a self-confessed "mess" come kick-off Sunday.

Okunbor's likeness to Idris will no doubt be mentioned at some point in the stands and coverage.

Rather than emulate the one-time Test and Origin star, Okunbor wants to take the field with him.

"I've had to deal with [the comparisons] since I started growing my hair. I feel like it's alright," Okunbor says.

"He's a good bloke, he's someone I really looked up to when I was younger.

"He's the only Nigerian to ever play [NRL], for me to follow in his footsteps is massive. I can now say there's two Nigerians that have played [English speedster and 90s import Martin Offiah also boasts Nigerian heritage].

"I messaged him not long ago asking him if he wanted to play in this Nigerian team that's getting organised at the end of the year. But he said he's a bit passed it at the moment.

"I've never met him in person or anything like that but I've heard good things about him."