After getting a taste of life as an NRL player last weekend, recent Panthers debutant Billy Burns says he’s eager for a huge pre-season this summer to showcase what he’s capable of.
The 20-year-old backrower became the ninth Panther to debut in first grade this season when he entered the famous Sydney Cricket Ground pitch during last Saturday night’s match against the Roosters.
Filling in for an injured Isaah Yeo, Burns played 35 minutes off the bench in front of his family and friends – many of whom travelled several hours from Parkes in the state’s Central West to watch him play.
Speaking with the Weekender, Burns said his debut against the defending Premiers was everything he imagined and more.
“Playing the likes of Tedesco and Keary – blokes I grew up watching – I was a bit starstruck out there,” he admitted.
“My debut game was everything I imagined and more. You can’t really prepare for games like that especially being thrown straight in the deep-end against the defending Premiers.
“It was a big game, a big test to see where I was at, but I enjoyed it.”
The former McCarthy Catholic College student is the latest in a long line of young players Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has blooded in 2019. Not in recent memory has Penrith given so many opportunities to rookies in a single NRL season.
Burns said he always held out hope of getting a chance to be a part of this year’s rookie class.
“You always get a bit jealous when you see your mates debut in front of you but it gives you plenty of drive as well,” he said.
“It was great to be able to debut alongside so many players that played in the younger grades with me too.
“I never thought running around in the Under 20s, playing at 90kg, that I’d be playing first grade with a few of them guys. You always knew there was talent there but I never thought so many of us would progress.”
When pre-season rolls around this November, Burns will be one of a huge group of players putting in the extra work in the summer heat to impress coach Cleary for a place on next year’s roster.
“It’ll definitely be a big pre-season for me, trying to impress Ivan and get a spot in the NRL squad,” he said.
“I’ll be floating in between grades that’s for sure but I’ll definitely try and put a big case in and try and impress Ivan the best I can.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.