Back in the Concord rehab room after three off-season operations, Brent Naden is hoping for better fortunes in 2024 after an injury and suspension-filled campaign.
Limited to just eight NRL games last season, the premiership-winning centre struggled with his inability to help save the Wests Tigers from slumping to a second-straight wooden spoon.
But as the club and Naden desperately look towards a new year, it is clear the charismatic strike centre is still bringing the optimism and energy to the inner west.
“It was a pretty frustrating season. I only played eight games so it was a year full of injuries and a couple of suspensions in there too," Naden told NRL.com.
“For me personally, it hasn’t been lonely as much as it's been frustrating because I couldn't be out there with the boys and it's such a slow process.
“But I've tried to stay positive, I think the physios are sick of me already and it's only week two of pre-season.
“They've bounce me around between them...‘you take Nado, no you take him,' I give them a pretty hard time but it’s all for a laugh. I think they’ll be hoping to see me back out there more than anyone.
“But I'm excited to put my best foot forward. Do all my rehab, train hard, do all the right things and come back for 2024. A bit like a fresh start I suppose."
Naden gives it everything
Naden is no stranger to testing times in rugby league having gone from one wooden spoon club to another after switching mid-season from the Bulldogs to the Wests Tigers in 2022.
Playing under six different NRL coaches in three seasons – including four in just over 18 months at Wests Tigers – is not something Naden had given much thought to but made him hopeful for more success and stability in the future.
"I’ve never really thought about that until now but having been around a couple of different clubs the last few years there has been lots of change," he said.
"All of those coaches have been very different and good in their own way but Benji is different because he could probably still play.
"So I’m very excited to play under him, he's been in the game so recently so has a really fresh understanding of how it all works.
"He knows how to build a game, what it takes to win games and all that hard work and training that goes not that."
The bright spot for Wests Tigers fans in 2023 was the emergence of rising star Jahream Bula, who made his NRL debut just two weeks after Naden dislocated his shoulder and five-eighth Adam Doueihi tore his ACL on Easter Monday.
The 27-year-old Naden said the rookie fullback came as an important morale booster for the club and a player he's desperately excited to link up with on field in 2024 after connecting away from footy.
Bula take a bow
“He definitely lifted the spirits here last year. I just love what he brings to the team, he’s fast, fit, strong. He's a freak to be honest," Naden said.
“I call him my son,” he joked. “We just sort of clicked during preseason last year.”
“He’s only a couple of lockers down from me and we always have this running joke. He's a good basketball player and I always gee him up that I'm better than him and he bites every time. But I’m too scared to actually verse him.
“He’s one I'm most excited to play with. I only got to play one game with him last year and then I couldn’t get back on the field with him."
Match: Raiders v Wests Tigers
Round 2 -
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra