Earlier this season, you couldn’t read a story online or switch on a rugby league program without seeing or hearing the words Matt Burton – he was literally the name on everyone’s lips.
With the struggling Bulldogs desperate to land their prized recruit a year early, the pressure was well and truly applied to Penrith – from all corners – about an immediate release.
Thankfully for Panthers fans and the club’s quest for an elusive premiership, Penrith bosses held firm – refusing to give in to an early release for the talented 21-year-old.
Speaking for the first time since his name was splashed across the papers, Burton said he’s glad things have settled down in the media and he’s able to solely focus on playing footy.
“The headlines didn’t really bother me, I didn’t really look into it all that much,” he admitted to the Weekender.
“It’s good to be able to focus on being here, playing good footy and doing what’s best for the team.”
Burton remaining in Panthers colours for the rest of the season is probably beneficial to all parties involved. Not only has he been playing a significant role during the club’s recent winning streak, but Burton’s also further developing his own game, which will ultimately assist his new side in Canterbury down the track.
“I think it’s helping my confidence too, being in a winning side. Just to be here is great,” he said.
In Burton’s four appearances in first grade this season, he’s made a real impact for the competition leaders at both centre and halfback.
With Dylan Edwards sidelined through injury and Stephen Crichton filling in for him at fullback, Burton has fit in seamlessly at left centre alongside five-eighth Jarome Luai and powerhouse winger Brian To’o.
The Dubbo product, who has crossed the line in three consecutive matches, said he’s enjoying life in his new position.
“I’m feeling pretty confident out there, obviously getting the reps in at training has been helping a lot,” Burton said.
“It helps when you have Jarome inside of you – who is always talking a lot – and Bizza outside of you. It makes my job a lot easier when you get them sort of blokes helping you out.”
With Penrith getting their injured brigade back, coach Ivan Cleary has a serious decision on his hands – send Burton back to NSW Cup or find a place for him somewhere in the first grade side.
Whatever Cleary’s call, Burton will be doing everything in his power to help Penrith win a title before he departs.
“I’m just happy to be in the team, so if I’m getting an opportunity, I’ll take it with both hands,” he said.
“Whether I’m in the [NRL] team or not, I’ll be doing my best to get back in there and I’ll give it 100 per cent.”
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 a decade.