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Okunbor confident of keeping spot despite flood of star recruits

Entering the season with a long-term knee injury, Jayden Okunbor wasn't sure he'd be re-signed by the Bulldogs.

But the powerful winger believes his positivity and commitment to ACL rehab - leading to his return against the Rabbitohs last Sunday - were the keys to earning another two-year contract this week.

And the 24-year-old is determined to vindicate the club's support as he eyes off a place in what is shaping as a red-hot backline in 2022.

"I just wanted to do everything possible to get back [from injury] as quick as possible," Okunbor said on Wednesday.

"And I guess the club saw my work ethic and I'd like to think that's part of the reason why they wanted to keep me around."

Okunbor, who scored a try last round and will face the Sharks on Sunday, is grateful that Canterbury have backed him after being suspended for 14 games in 2020 due to an off-field matter.

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"Last year, Baz [coach Trent Barrett] called me and said that he wanted me at the club. He's put a lot of trust in me," he said.

"I've got to repay the club a fair bit. I feel they took a big chance to let me come back and I just didn't want to let them down.

"For them to give me another two years is massive for me. It's where I've always wanted to be, I grew up in the area and this is the only team I've ever really wanted to play for.

"Trent said he liked seeing how hard I worked during the pre-season. He knew that I was going through a bit of a tough time with the injury, just coming in every day knowing that I was so far away from playing. He saw that I stayed optimistic.

"I'd like to think that that's something he wanted in the club - the type of person that's not just going to come in and kick stones."

The Bulldogs have added star winger Josh Addo-Carr, fullback Matt Dufty and centre Brent Naden to their roster next year but Okunbor wasn't nervous about his future as the club went shopping.

"I back myself. I know in myself that if I'm fit and healthy and playing my best footy I can mix it with those types of players," he said.

"They're obviously guns - we've got Origin players coming and future Origin players. But I see myself as a first-grader and I was confident that [a contract] was going to come.

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"I think the Foxx [Addo-Carr] is probably the highest calibre - he's killing it, he kills it at Origin level. And as another winger, he's someone that I'd love to learn something off. Probably not going to get as fast as him, but [I'd like to] just learn some tricks off him.

"Naden's a gun, he's been playing [NSW] Cup but I feel like he's definitely an NRL-standard player and we've got Nick Cotric as well, he's played Origin and for his country.

"I see myself hopefully getting a wing spot, but it's going to be a big battle in the pre-season which I'm really excited for."

Canterbury have also bolstered their 2022 forward stocks by securing Broncos back-rower Tevita Pangai Jnr on a three-year deal.

"He's a high-calibre player. I'd really like him on my side rather than trying to tackle him, that's for sure," said Joe Stimson, who will be among those jostling with Pangai Jnr for game-time.

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"Everyone's really excited that he's coming here and we're looking forward to meeting him and playing with him.

"That's how you've got to look at it - like it's another challenge and you can learn off him and make your game better."

Meanwhile, new general manager Phil Gould has already made an impression on the Queensland-based squad despite being in Sydney.

"We had a little Zoom call with him last night, he just introduced himself. Everyone knows he's one of the smartest people in rugby league, so obviously very excited to have him around," Okunbor said.

"He's going to help Baz, he's going to help everyone one-on-one, whether it's on the field or off the field."

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National 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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