‘Definitely an NRL coach’: Inside Walker’s bid to fill game’s glaring void

Key points

  • Cody Walker will be in charge of the Indigenous All Stars attack next month
  • Walker’s unique role comes after he, Nicho Hynes and Wade Graham undertook coaching courses last year
  • The NRL has not had an Indigenous head club coach since Arthur Beetson in the early 1990s

Cody Walker will be put in charge of some of the NRL’s best attacking players in his unique Indigenous All Stars playing/assistant coach role that heralds the next wave of First Nations coaches.

Walker will be given the keys to Ron Griffiths’ team’s attack for next month’s annual All Stars clash in Rotorua as the South Sydney maestro takes his first step toward joining the NRL’s coaching ranks.

Griffiths, who spearheaded Newcastle’s breakthrough NRLW title last year after coaching on Michael Maguire’s Wests Tigers staff, sees Walker leading the likes of Nicho Hynes, Wade Graham and Justin Hodges as the next generation of Indigenous coaches.

Walker, Hynes and Graham were all enrolled in coaching courses last year while fellow First Nations figures Dean Widders (Parramatta) and Jamie Soward (St George Illawarra) already hold top positions in the NRLW.

But the men’s game hasn’t seen an Indigenous first-grade head coach since Arthur Beetson at Cronulla in the early 1990s, though Laurie Daley did lead NSW to Origin victory in 2014 and Johnathan Thurston featured on Queensland’s staff last year.

Walker’s first taste of assistant coaching will see him steering the Indigenous side’s offence and commanding a five-star backline featuring Latrell Mitchell, Hynes, Selwyn Cobbo, Jack Wighton and Josh Addo-Carr.

“There’s definitely an NRL coach in Cody,” Griffiths told the Herald ahead of the February 12 fixture.

“He’s [got] an astute mind and he can analyse the game very well. And even talking to him now compared to a couple of years ago and when he was first finding his way in the NRL, his ideas of the game and what it looks like, they’ve grown exponentially.

“He’s extremely smart. We’ve talked through his role and he and Matty Bowen will work predominantly on the attacking side of things and how we want to play.

“The big thing with having Cody as an assistant is that we’ve had some players unable to play under different circumstances.

Cody Walker has taken on game-planning duties under Rabbitohs coach Jason Demetriou.Credit:Getty Images

“Having Cody as an assistant allows us to help develop that next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander coaches.

“And also if we’ve got coaches in clubland, then they’re able to help push the value of this game and give first-hand experience of what it means, how the players develop and go back to their clubs as better players.”

Walker has often spoken of his desire to fill a glaring void in rugby league’s coaching ranks, though at this point sees himself as an assistant in clubland rather than head coach when he does eventually retire.

The 33-year-old already takes a lead role in game-planning and strategy at Souths, where he recently re-signed through to the end of 2025.

Craig Bellamy and Wayne Bennett rank as the most illustrious figures Walker has played for.

But his relationship with Griffiths stretches back more than a decade to when the pair would combine for the Mindaribba Warriors in the annual Koori Knockout.

Griffiths wrapped up his own playing career as Walker’s captain/coach with a 2011 tournament win.

Walker’s playing/coaching All Stars role was the product of discussions between the ARL Commission and the NRL’s Indigenous Advisory Group.

For Griffiths, it underlines one of the All Stars week’s most important elements.

“It’s just about creating opportunities for these guys,” he said.

“Opportunities lead to success. For a guy like Bailey Butler (the 24-year-old CQ Capras prop called into the Indigenous squad), this game is putting him in the shopfront window.

“You look at guys like Shaquai Mitchell and Josh Kerr, they hadn’t played first grade before playing All Stars and they’ve gone onto first-grade contracts. We’re hoping we can provide the same opportunity for Bailey.”

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