‘I broke down’: Okunbor eager to repay Bulldogs’ faith after schoolgirl scandal


Okunbor had his penalty reduced to a 14-game suspension and $22,500 fine along with counselling and community service, while Harawira-Naera signed with the Raiders.

Okunbor, 23, said he had to be convinced by his mother Donna to watch NRL games again while his career hung in limbo.

I had heaps of time to think about, but right now I just want to be a good person

Jayden Okunbor

And in a candid admission, he blamed himself for Canterbury’s season spiralling out of control, with the Port Macquarie drama costing the club a $2 million major sponsorship.

The club has since signed Laundy Hotels as its major backer, but is staring down the barrel of a first wooden spoon since 2008.

“I let them down and the repercussions of what I did trickled down to the team,” Okunbor said. “We started the season pretty poorly. I take responsibility for that.

“I had to apologise to everyone. It’s not a true reflection of my character. I just want to go back to regaining their trust.

Jayden Okunbor has opened up on the dark days during his NRL deregistration.Credit:Getty

“I had heaps of time to think about it, but right now I just want to be a good person. I thought I was a good role model before all this stuff happened and now I want to rebuild my reputation and gain people’s trust and never let them down again.

“My decision making has to be better. I’m privileged to be in this position and can’t make stupid mistakes like that ever again. My big thing is: if mum would be embarrassed by it, don’t do it.”

Okunbor and Harawira-Naera trained together until they had their appeals heard. The former said he started working as a landscaper the day after his contract was torn up.

Harawira-Naera did not want to return to Belmore once he was free to play in the NRL again, but Okunbor said he only ever wanted to come back to Canterbury – even after the club sacked coach Dean Pay mid-season.

I told my mum and we all broke down.

Jayden Okunbor

It was the highest-profile victory in an NRL appeal case in front of former High Court justice Ian Callinan. It also prompted an emotional outpour from Okunbor.

“I broke down,” he said. “I went and told my aunty and she broke down. I told my mum and we all broke down. We had hope, but we didn’t want to get our hopes up too high and to have that was amazing.

“There were some dark days and I was sort of set on not [returning to the NRL], but when the opportunity came and the club said they wanted me back, I jumped at it. I couldn’t be happier.

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“My first day back they were doing review. I just wanted to make an effort to not be told to say anything. I got up in front of all the boys and apologised. When it all happened I didn’t think they would want to talk to me, but it shows the character of the club and the boys. They reached out straight away and made sure I was all right and I can’t thank them enough.

“There were a lot of people I had to apologise to and I wanted to get back here as soon as possible. [The landscaping work has] gone a long way in humbling me. It scared me I guess.”

Okunbor scored a try in a patchy performance against Manly, one which he claimed felt like an NRL debut again.

He said another game in the last fortnight of the regular season would be a bonus as Canterbury search for a win against either the Rabbitohs or table-topping Panthers to claw past the Broncos on the ladder.

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