WHEN Cody Walker played in the last Koori Knockout at Bathurst, he put in a standout performance.
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Playing with the Hunter-based Mindaribba team, Walker scored three tries in the grand final win against Yuin Monaro, being named as the best on ground for the decider.
But this wasn't the Cody Walker we know today.
Not the South Sydney Rabbitohs footballer or the State of Origin representative for NSW.
He was just a young 21-year-old, looking to make it into the NRL.
But he was still five years off doing that.
Walker credits that Koori Knockout victory in Bathurst 12 years ago as the first major step towards making it in the NRL.
"Coming out here and winning the knockout, it was probably what kick-started my career," Walker said.
"I ended playing really well in that knockout and then I had the opportunity to sign a reserve grade deal with Easts Tigers up in Brisbane, playing in the Queensland Cup.
"That got my foot in the door."
It would take several more years before Walker got his chance in the big time.
He trained with the Melbourne Storm in the 2013 pre-season, before ultimately signing a one-year contract with the Victorian club in 2014.
But in June, 2014, he signed a two-year contract with South Sydney, starting in 2015.
He would ultimately get his first taste of NRL in 2016, at the age of 26, thanks to the suspension of Luke Keary and injury to Adam Reynolds.
Even after all these years, Bathurst still holds a special memory in Walker's heart.
He said if he could come back in 2024 and win it, pending no NRL commitments, Walker said it would be an "omen".
"[The 2011 Bathurst Koori Knockout] probably what got the exposure I needed at the time, so it definitely holds a soft spot in my life," he said.
"Hopefully, it's a bit of an omen there and we can have a Bundjalung win in 2024.
"My main priority is always South Sydney Rabbitohs. I'm always wanting to be playing on the grand final weekend, but if that's not the case, I would love to give back to my community and represent my family and where I come from.
"Doing that in a safe place like the knockout is always special."
The Bundjalung people are the original custodians of a region based roughly around the north coastal area of NSW and a portion of south-east Queensland.
As of 2023, Walker has played 191 games in the NRL, scoring 91 tries, all with South Sydney.
He has represented NSW five times and has played for the Indigenous All Stars twice.
Walker was in Bathurst on Thursday, November 16, where it was announced that the city would host the 2024 Koori Knockout.
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