Penrith flyer Brent Naden can’t travel home to Wellington in NSW’s Central West due to the NRL’s COVID-19 restrictions, but his thoughts are always with the town that helped him live out his first-grade dreams.
Naden is starring for the table-topping Panthers, but he wouldn’t be where he is today without his rugby league journey that started with the Cowboys on the banks of the Macquarie River.
Wellington, a 30-minute drive from Dubbo, only has a touch over 4000 people, and it has experienced countless problems with drugs and domestic violence, but the town is a proven NRL breeding ground.
Stars from the past and present like Terry Fahey, Blake Ferguson, Tyrone Peachey and Kotoni Staggs all hail from the western heartland.
Naden is also a proud Wellington Cowboys junior – a club that has gone to great lengths to use football as a vehicle to push social change.
Fittingly in the NRL’s Indigenous Round, the Panthers outside back and passionate Wiradjuri man paid tribute to the Cowboys community for his rise to the top-grade ranks.
“It’s more than a footy club, it is like a big family,” declared Naden, who has scored five tries in his seven appearances for Penrith this season.
“Once you are a Cowboy, you are always a Cowboy, and we just look out for each other.
“I’ve still got mates that play there.
“The club has cleaned up its act a bit. It had a bit of a reputation as a fighting club, but they’ve cleaned that up.
“The Cowboys are my junior club, so if I wasn’t playing for them, I don’t think I would have got picked up anywhere – I owe a lot to them.
“I haven’t been back home due to all the COVID stuff, which sucks, but before that I’d get back there as much as I could to watch them play.”
Proud Wellington Cowboys junior Brent Naden has excelled in the NRL with the Penrith Panthers. Picture: Jason McCawley/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Naden will play for his people in Wellington when he runs out for Penrith against Manly at Lottoland on Saturday night.
He is expecting the Sea Eagles to come after the competition-leading Panthers, especially at Fortress Brookvale.
“We have a target on our back now, so every team is going to come for us,” he said.
“We know that week in and week out from now on, so we have to aim up.”
Naden says halfback Nathan Cleary has evolved as a leader to prevent the Panthers from getting a big head.
He also credits five-eighth Jarome Luai for providing the lighter moments as the man to replace James Maloney in the team clown stakes.
“Jarome is the biggest pest,” he grinned.
“He has always got a smart-arse move.”
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