Brent Naden could just be Penrith’s X factor in Saturday’s preliminary final against Souths.
In the 17 times he has taken to the field this season, the Panthers have come away winners.
But the 24-year-old insists he’s no lucky charm.
“I think it comes down to the team planning and playing really well,” Naden says.
The centre’s season could have gone either way after he was allegedly racially abused by fans on the Central Coast while playing against the Warriors in August.
It was the first time the Indigenous star had experienced anything like it at a game.
He was visibly upset and reported the incident, which led to a group of about eight men in their early 20s being evicted from the ground by police.
Incidents of targeted racial abuse have brought about the downfall of many footballers, like Adam Goodes, the Sydney Swans player who was subject to booing and abuse for years.
Naden says what fellow Indigenous footballers have been through has made taking a stance easier for him.
“Latrell [Mitchell] and Adam Goodes and GI [Greg Inglis] made me feel better about coming out and have made it easier for others too,” he said.
“I am just hoping I can now make it easier for the younger boys coming through as well.
Naden speaking out prompted an NRL investigation and the parties exchanged “apologies which were offered and accepted”.
The Warriors were also quick to condemn the behaviour.
“We completely support a tough stance, the New Zealand Warriors embrace all cultures and race and proudly promote inclusiveness of all cultures and race,” Warriors chief executive Cameron George said.
Since then, Naden’s game has gone to a new level, which he credits to his teammates.
“It’s all happy vibes, we get the tunes going in the sheds after the game, so it’s a good place to be,” Naden says.
“Closeness is definitely part of our success, the bond we share, everyone just wants to play for each other and not let each other down.”
The Panthers go into Saturday’s game refreshed from a week off and as strong favourites to win a record 17 straight games.
But the Rabbitohs have records to boast of their own, scoring 144 points in their last three wins — the biggest haul in the club’s history.
“Defence is going to win us that game because Souths have been scoring a lot of tries off offloads and unstructured footy, they’re making a lot of tries off second phase footy so our defence has to be on point,” Naden says.
Making it to the grand final would be a dream come true for Naden.
“The grand final would mean a lot, but I am just taking it one week at a time.”
Once Naden’s season is over, be it this Saturday or on Grand Final day, he’s looking forward to getting back in touch with his roots.
“Football first, but after that, the first thing I’ll do is load up my dogs, load up my swag,” Naden says.