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Panthers centre Brent Naden

Penrith rookie Brent Naden was like a kid in a candy store when told eighth Immortal Andrew Johns had words of praise for him in just his second NRL appearance.

The 23-year-old, who was thrown into the deep end by Ivan Cleary as the club's backline stocks plummeted a fortnight ago, is quickly making a name for himself.

Naden returned to Penrith after stints at the Raiders and Knights coming through the junior systems.

He scored his first NRL try last week against the Roosters and that had Johns asking who the Wellington-born product was, describing his running technique as a flawless "glide".

"I actually went for the Newcastle Knights, when I was younger, and he was one of my role models but I was too tall for the halves," Naden told

"When I was eight my uncle signed with their Jersey Flegg side but ended up having a car accident and couldn't play again."

When the Knights came calling in 2018 for an opportunity to join the likes of the Kalyn Ponga and Mitchell Pearce crusade, Naden jumped at the chance, albeit it spending most of his time in reserve grade.

"It was a bit of a childhood dream and one I'm glad I ticked off even though I didn't get a game," Naden said.

Rabbitohs v Panthers - Round 14

"I enjoyed it, they've got a nice town and fan base there. But I always wanted to come back to Penrith. I played junior footy here, went to school here for two  years and my 'Venga' boys are here."

Venga boys? 

"Yeah, my boys, my little crew – basically my mates from school," he laughed. "It's good to be back with them."

For many, Naden's debut in the NRL was a case of long-time expected. Naden came through the representative system for NSW alongside Latrell Mitchell, Alex Twal and Robert Jennings.

"I've always had some doubts but had to keep sticking at it," Naden said.

"I think there's doubts in everyone, you can have a lot of setbacks in your career with injuries and no luck.

"I was more nervous against the Roosters than in my debut, I don't know why. Then I looked up to see who I was defending and made eye contact at Cooper Cronk and thought, 'What am I doing here, should I be here?'."

The likeable character was upgraded to a development contract earlier in the week, meaning he'll no longer need an exemption from the NRL to take his place in the Panthers side given the club's back-line woes.

"It's easy running off Kiks [Viliame Kikau], he does all the hard work and I just finish it off," he said.

"I'm enjoying myself in the top level, I'm just trying to be a massive sponge and take everything in my stride."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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