How Benji is inspiring ‘expired’ Bulldogs half

Forgotten by the club he grew up supporting, Brandon Wakeham is using a rugby league great to help hone his craft, writes LACHLAN McKIRDY.

Brandon Wakeham hit the ground running within a week of moving to the Wests Tigers.

The former Bulldogs junior left the club he grew up supporting for greener pastures, confident his game is strong enough to force himself into coach Tim Sheens’ plans.

But he wasn’t the only half to catch the eye during one of the club’s first opposed sessions at their new Centre of Excellence.

Assistant coach and club legend Benji Marshall dazzled with the ball in-hand – still showing glimpses of the speed and skill that tore apart defences for the past 15 years.

“That’s why he keeps running around, trying to show us how to play and stuff,” Wakeham says.

“He might make a comeback throughout the year, he’s still got it. It wasn’t that long ago he retired, but he’s still got all the skills there.

“[Getting a spot in the top 30] is what I think he’s trying to do.”

While there’s no serious suggestion Marshall is positioning for an NRL comeback, it’s clear for 24-year-old Wakeham that learning under the former golden boot winner was an extra attraction that drew him to Concord.

He’s already received guidance from Marshall on how to improve his game, something he’s hoping to put into practise this season.

“To learn off him and watch him when he goes around, I think I’ll learn a lot this year,” Wakeham says.

“He’s already given me a few pointers on the run. Just when you get the ball, run and things will happen around you.

“Instead of being a pass-first player, be a run-first, and the space for other people will open up when you run.

“[I’m] trying to slowly implement that into training and hopefully I get better at it.”


There was plenty of fanfare when Wakeham made his NRL debut in 2019, emotional scenes followed as his dad presented him with his first jersey.

This was a kid who graffitied his home at age five to celebrate the Bulldogs winning the 2004 premiership, making his way through the junior system to play for the famous ‘family club’.

Four years later, why is he now playing for one of their western Sydney rivals?

“I feel like my time there sort of expired,” he admits.

“I loved being a Bulldogs junior, growing up you wanted to play for them and you don’t want to leave.

“At the end of the day, things happen and you have to make that transition. It was a mutual thing.

“I was getting a couple of games here or there, they obviously didn’t want to re-sign me.

“But that’s the business at the end of the day. They’ve got to do what’s best for the team and the club, not too salty at that but just one of those things.”

Wakeham admits the past few seasons had been a lot tougher than he expected.

He never played more than 10 NRL games in a season, only 12 matches across the past two years, and never started more than five games in a row.

“It was up and down. In and out of first grade and then Covid, not playing too much footy consistently each week,” he says.

“I think the other guys around you, they’re receiving the ball off you and to try and get those combinations happening in one or two weeks is not always easy.

“But if you’re not playing good enough, you’re not going to play. So it falls back on me at the end of the day.”

Despite those struggles, Wakeham joins the Tigers off what he believes to be the best season of his career.

Not because of what he did in the NRL – where he only played four matches – but because of his time in reserve grade where he was able to lead the side to a NSW Cup grand final.

He thrived off that consistency and hopes to build on it at whatever level he plays for the Tigers.

“It was just playing the footy I wanted to play. In first grade, I wasn’t able to do that but in reserve grade last year, having Tangles [David Tangata-Toa] as the coach, he let me run the team how I wanted to,” Wakeham says.

“He gave me good structure but I was allowed to do what I wanted and see the game how I see it. That’s how I like to play.

“Last year was probably one of my better years even though I didn’t play much first grade. Hopefully, I can take a lot of confidence out of that to take into this year.

“Everyone wants a spot in the side. But if that doesn’t happen, just try to push those guys in opposition every week at training so everyone gets better. We’re all trying to win the grand final, so whatever is best for the team is going to happen.”

Lachlan McKirdyContent producer

Lachlan McKirdy is a content producer for CODE Sports who focuses on Cricket, NRL and the Olympic sports. Lachlan has a passion for storytelling and enjoys sharing the incredible stories of athletes performing on the domestic and international stage.

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