Long before he became the ultimate late bloomer with an NRL debut at 26, Cody Walker was running around alongside Ryan James and Jarrod Wallace in the Titans’ Toyota Cup side.
The year was 2010 and the gifted playmaker from Casino in northern NSW was taking the first steps on a journey he hoped would lead to a long and successful NRL career.
Among Walker’s peers during his two-year Toyota Cup stint were Daly Cherry-Evans, Kieran Foran, Dale Finucane, Dane Gagai, Jesse Bromwich, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves… kids with stars in their eyes who went on to become superstars of our game.
It may have taken Walker six more years to crack first grade but he has more than made up for lost time since Michael Maguire handed him an opportunity in the opening round of 2016 against the Roosters.
As he prepares to reach the 150-game milestone against Manly on Friday, the humble 32-year-old reflects with pride on how far he has come as a player and a person.
Cody Walker's journey to 150
“Looking back on my career it never seemed possible to reach 150 games,” Walker said. “For a 26-year-old debutant to play one game was big, let alone reach a milestone like this.
“It’s big in my eyes, just because of my journey and where I’ve been and what I’ve been through.
“So many emotions run through my head when I think about all the people who have been in my corner since I was a young kid – my parents and brothers and coaches in junior levels who pushed me through. I can’t thank them enough.”
Not only has Walker carved out a superb NRL career but he has also pulled on the sky blue of NSW in four Origin games and captained the Indigenous All Stars against the Maori in 2021.
It’s a fair CV for a bloke who freely admits he took a lot of opportunities for granted as a youngster and may never have realised his potential had it not been for the unwavering support of his family.
“I was selfish at a young age so I had to bide my time a fair bit,” he said.
“Had I played at 18 or 19, I probably would have played one or two games and been out the back door and that’s the reality of my life at that time.
“I had a son in 2011 at 21 years of age so I had to turn things around, I had no other choice. My son depended on me, that’s the reality.
“I had no job, no car, nothing really going for me, so I’m proud of what I’ve been able to achieve.
“The years of struggle have built up character and resilience in me that I didn’t want to give up on anything and it has led me to this point and it will lead me through the rest of my life.”
Walker beats Cleary and busts the Panthers wide open
Emotions will run high when Walker charges onto Central Coast Stadium and spots his family in the crowd and he’ll pay a silent tribute to his mum Linda, who passed away in 2018 after a heart attack.
From his magical solo effort against the Panthers in the 2021 decider to his four-pointer for the Blues in a thumping Origin win at ANZ Stadium in 2020, Walker’s post-try celebrations are always dedicated to his mum.
“She was everything. I do think about her a fair bit and it’s more emotional on days like this when I think how proud she would be of me,” Walker said. “There’s always a tribute to her when I score and kiss my wristband where I have her name written.
“Mum was there every step of the way, supporting me, telling me you choose your own life, ‘if you want to do it, you do it’.”
Also taking pride of place next to ‘Mum’ on that white tape on his wrist are the names of partner Nellie and sons Kian and Kade, who will share the momentous occasion with Walker on Friday night.
And standing on the other side of halfway will be Cherry-Evans and Foran, members of the 2009 Toyota Cup Team of the Year, premiership players, early bloomers who may have beaten Walker to the NRL and to the 150 Club but know all too well the threat he poses, especially on such an emotional night for the Casino kid.