Cody Walker is already used to being a leader on the field, and one of the key orchestrators of the attack at South Sydney. The five eighth has been helping to coach Lachlan Ilias, the club’s rookie halfback, through 2022, and is a major figure in developing the game plans at Redfern.
Now, he is set to move into his first coaching role, alongside previous mentor Ronald Griffiths, the new coach of. the Indigenous All Stars team, as part of developing a pathway for Aboriginal coaches to make it to the NRL.
It remains one of the most shameful aspects of the NRL that, despite having countless superb Indigenous players, there hasn’t been an Indigenous coach in first grade since Arthur Beetson left the Sydney Roosters in 1994.
Walker was well aware of the lack of First Nations people in coaching roles, and said that it was part of the reason that he wanted to take on a role alongside Griffiths with the All Stars as a player/assistant coach.
“Some of our best players that have ever played are Aboriginal and there’s a great knowledge of the game and great insticts. It’s about passing that knowledge on,” he said.
“That’s one of the main reasons that we wanted someone like myself and Ronny as part of the coaching staff. We looked across the NRL, and there’s no real senior positions across the NRL and in the NRLW there is, there’s four or five Indigenous coaches.
“In the NRL, there’s none and we wanted to change that, to make a bit of a pathway for Indigenous coaches to get some experience and hopefully that leads into senior coaching positions in the future.”
The pathway with the All Stars is being developed to offer that higher level exposure to Indigenous players and to work out how they might fit in down the line.
“For me, I’m not sure what to expect of what my role may be, but I look at it as a great learning experience, to go over there and learn as much as I can off Ronny and the coaching staff about how they plan training.,” explained Walker.
“I do a lot of the game-planning stuff at Souths now, so that side isn’t too foreign to me. I can’t wait.
“I’m not sure I’d ever want to be a head coach in the NRL or go that far, but the assistant coach role interests me a little bit and we’ll see how we go over the next couple of years and see what happens. I’ll get as much experience as I can and see what happens.
“The ARL Commission and the Indigenous Advisory Group wanted to make the pathway happen and put it to the council about having a player/assistant coach and they had to go through a process of who they wanted to pick and what would happen.
“There was a number of different players that could have been the assistant role, we’re all doing our certificates now, and any one of them would have been handy to put in.
‘I think my role will be more of the attack kind of assistant coach so nothing will change with what I do now at Souths.”
Griffiths won the NRLW this year with Newcastle Knights, facing off against fellow Indigenous coach Dean Widders’ Parramatta Eels in the Grand Final, and has experience in the NRL ranks as an assistant at the Wests Tigers, making him the perfect person for Walker to learn from.
Indeed, the pair go back a long way: Griffiths made his big mark in the Koori Knockout as captain/coach, with a young Walker in his team.
“I started at the Aboriginal Knockout in his team, he was our captain/coach for six years at the Mindaribba Warriors and we ended up winning it in 2011 in his last game of footy,” said Walker.
“He’s got a great knack of communicating what he wants from his team, he’s a great motivator and he’s got a great footy brain.
“All those things make up a great coach and I had no doubt that he had the quality to make it. I’m proud of his journey of what he’s been able to achieve in such a short period at the Knights Women, to go from last to Premiers. I’m quite happy for him.
“For me, it’s about going over and learning, being a sponge around the coaches we have on hand. I’m not going over there thinking that I know everything about coaching – I know absolutely nothing. It’ll be a great experience for me.
“It’s about improving the other parts that you don’t see in terms of delivering messages to a group, but is an important part of coaching. That comes from doing it more often. It’s not just about game plans – we do that now and then the coaches deliver it.
“We add what we need to add but doing it all on your own is a pretty daunting task so that’s one think that I’ll learn over the next couple of years.”