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How Wakeham has kicked the Bulldogs to success

The kicking game of Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs halfback Brandon Wakeham has put everyone on notice, especially the Penrith Panthers defence as they prepare for The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup Grand Final at CommBank Stadium tomorrow.

Wakeham has five try assists – four off kicks – in the past two finals games to give him 14 from just 15 games this season.

The 23-year-old’s talents is one of the reasons the Bulldogs have been riding a wave of momentum taking down the Parramatta Eels, North Sydney Bears and Minor Premiers the Newtown Jets, on the road to the decider.

“A lot of my session is kicking, and after the team stuff is done, I’d spend another half-an hour to 45 minutes kicking goals, doing corner kicks,” Wakeham said.

“It’s paying off at the moment with Jayden (Okunbor) catching those balls.”

It certainly is – two tries in the 28-26 Prelminary Final win were derived from the Wakeham-kick-Okunbor-catch combination.

Bulldogs Captain Brandon Wakeham on NSW Cup Grand Final

Okunbor at 196cms is 15cm taller than Panthers left-side winger Sunia Turuva.

“I’ve been on the other side of someone kicking us to death, so I sort of know how important it is,” Wakeham said.

Panthers lock J’maine Hopgood and his teammates are well aware of the Wakeham-Okunbor danger.

“Wakeham and Okumbor had a good connection there with a couple of kicks against Newtown so that’s something to keep an eye on,” Hopgood said.

“Being a Grand Final, you just have to adapt quickly to whatever comes your way.”

The Panthers have a pretty handy winger in Turuva and centre Robert Jennings, who have 20 tries between them this year. Okunbor and centre Declan Casey have 19 for the Bulldogs.

Hopgood is also making a name for himself as he develops his game with some influence from Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues lock Isaah Yeo.

“I’ve sort of taken a few more steps in my game this year, especially attacking-wise,” Hopgood said.

“I’ve tried to be more of a ball-player with a bit more responsibility on my back in terms of getting the boys around the field.

“We train with the NRL squad and it’s been awesome to watch someone like Isaah – not just the way he trains but the way he prepares away from the field to get his body right.

“He’s been incredible to watch, and I’ve definitely taken a few things from that.”

The Panthers also have 12 players who’ve enjoyed NRL experience this year, compared with seven in the Bulldogs line-up.

“I don’t think it helps us more, anyone on the day can come up with a play,” Hopgood said.

J'maine Hopgood on NSW Cup Grand Final Preparations

“Obviously it is the result of a lot of hard work by our boys to get into first grade. It gives them some exposure and confidence and that’s always going to make you a better player coming back to NSW Cup.”

Wakeham, who played NRL four times this year, says the first grade experience in both teams should make the decider an arm wrestle.

“It’s not really that intimidating because we know that Penrith are a very good team which completes their sets and kicks to the corners for 80 minutes,” Wakeham said.

“It will be a grinding sort of game I think.”

Bulldogs NSW Cup Highlights

The Bulldogs sustained success, coming from fourth spot on The Knock-On Effect NSW Cup ladder to the Grand Final, comes from an inward-looking focus, he said.

“I think just purely worrying about ourselves,” Wakeham said.

“We know we play a good style of footy so if we hold the ball we can match it with all the top teams.

“Here we are in the last game of the season so the belief we have in our own game has got us here.”

Panthers NSW Cup Highlights

They have also survived a few bumps. Wakeham’s regular No.6 partner Zach Dockar-Clay tore medial ligaments in his right knee in the Minor Semi-final win over the Bears.

Utility Khaled Rajab, who played lock in that game, has now moved into the halves.

“Our group is pretty solid. I’ve loved having Khaled with me and I like having 18-year-old Paul Alamoti out in the centres – he’s a big teenager and I like to get in his ear about being aggressive.

“When he does that, you’ll see on the weekend how good he is. Jackson Topine is another who is going so well.”

Panthers have a few trump cards up their sleeve too.

Hooker Soni Luke, who has 19 try assists from 18 matches, and halfback Sean O’Sullivan, who has been a revelation in the NRL side with the absences of Nathan Cleary, are two of them.

Kurt Falls – the Panthers five-eighth and leading goal-kicker in the NSW Cup – is another.

Acknowledgement of Country

New South Wales Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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