Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has praised Matt Burton for his role in the Panthers’ premiership victory, admitting it will be “so sad” to see the talented 21-year-old leave the club after the grand final.
- Burton scored the Panthers’ first try in the grand final
- He played in the centres for much of his time at the Panthers
- The 21-year-old will join the Bulldogs next season
Burton starred in the Panthers’ 14-12 win over South Sydney at Brisbane’s Lang Park on Sunday night, the result securing the club its first premiership in 18 years.
He will join Canterbury ahead of the 2022 season, with a shift to his preferred position of five-eighth on the cards at the Bulldogs.
Cleary said Burton would be missed at the Panthers next year.
“Burto was phenomenal,” he said.
“He’s such a good kid. Reality will bite at some point. It’s so sad for him to go.
“But I am so happy how it’s turned out for him and what he has done for our team. We had a laugh yesterday saying we thought he was a pretty good centre.
“But that’s life, couldn’t have written that story either.”
Burton, who made his first-grade debut for Penrith in 2019, was used in the centres for much of his time at the Panthers.
State of Origin representatives Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary have been the first-choice halves during the club’s successful run the past two seasons, which also included a grand-final appearance last year.
Luai said Burton had made a remarkable transition to the centres.
“He’s (Burton) been crazy. He’s not even a centre,” he said.
“To go from five-eighth … I put myself in his shoes, it would definitely be tough.
“But it shows how much of a footballer he is and shows what kind of career he’s got in front of him.”
Luai said Burton’s breakthrough 2021 season had forced him to become a better player.
“That was also another learning curve for me, just realising there’s always someone waiting for your spot, so you’ve got to be at your best every week,” he said.
The Panthers tried to convince the Dubbo-born Burton to stay with the club as a centre.
He played 19 of 26 matches this season in the role, but is expected to be used in the number six jersey by Bulldogs coach Trent Barrett next year.