Penrith have stumbled on the perfect chance to show why they won’t release Matt Burton to Canterbury this season.
The back-up halfback is in line to replace Nathan Cleary in the NRL grand final rematch against Melbourne on Thursday night after the Panthers captain copped a head knock on Saturday.
Cleary was taken from the field for a head injury assessment in the final 10 minutes of the 28-0 win over the Bulldogs after copping a high shot from Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
And although he later passed his SCAT test and was cleared of concussion in the sheds, he will need to have a perfect recovery with no symptoms to play after a five-day turn around.
The public tug-of-war between the Bulldogs and the Panthers over Burton has been based on Penrith’s need for a back-up half and Canterbury’s need to have him playing NRL now – not in 2022 when he is due to join the club.
However, coach Ivan Cleary said the 21-year-old could get the call up on Thursday night against the Storm, showing why they need him playing reserve grade at Penrith this season.
“There was a period in the pre-season where I thought he was distracted (by calls for an early release) but we spoke and since then he’s been really good,” Cleary said.
“He’s trained really well and is playing well.
“I don’t know if he’s getting dialogue from Canterbury or not but all I can see is he’s happy at training and playing well.
“I don’t think he’s distracted.”
It comes after Burton starred with a try and two try-assists in Penrith’s 28-8 win over Mounties in the NSW Cup on Saturday.
The debate over whether the Panthers should release Burton to the Bulldogs intensified this week with Canterbury’s major sponsor Arthur Laundy calling on Penrith to let him go early.
“I’m not surprised anymore, it’s been pretty consistent,” Cleary said.
“You go through the archives and anything I’ve said about Matt is the same.
“To say we’re not thinking of the kid is wrong.
“He’d prefer to play first grade, of course he would, but we feel like we look after our players and Matt is certainly one of those.
“He’s played a grand total of 11 reserve grade games and maybe six first grade games – that’s it.
“He’s just turned 21 and has the world at his feet.
“The Dogs might actually thank us this time next year.”