The reeling Bulldogs will tonight get a glimpse of 2022 when incoming star Matt Burton suits up at five-eighth for the Panthers’ clash with the Tigers at Leichardt Oval.
Penrith are set to wheel out a depleted side for Round 13 after NSW coach Brad Fittler named six Panthers for next Wednesday’s State of Origin opener.
Halfback Nathan Cleary, five-eighth Jarome Luai, winger Brian To’o, lock Isaah Yeo, back-rower Liam Martin and hooker Api Koroisau (18th man) will all miss the Tigers clash after earning a Blues call-up. Prop Moses Leota is also sidelined due to a suspension.
And the selection of Luai on debut means the Panthers’ No.6 jumper has been handed to Burton for tonight’s fixture.
Burton will depart the Panthers after this season to join the rebuilding Bulldogs, arriving at Belmore with fellow recruits Josh Addo-Carr and Brent Naden.
Fittler applauded Burton’s ability to adapt.
“Every time he’s come in, whatever position it has been, he’s been able to lift and make an impact,” Fittler told Erin Molan on Sydney’s Nine News.
“He’s quite the player. Everyone playing tonight is in the top 30 at Penrith, so they train with each other week in and week out, so they know exactly what they’re doing.
“Quite the ask. One of the youngest teams ever to play in an NRL game and they’re going to be spearhead by Matt Burton. What a challenge.”
Burton is only 21 and has played just 16 NRL games, but Fittler said he strongly considered picking him for NSW.
“Well he’s just so versatile, so very close (to selecting him),” Fittler said.
“I’m sure he’ll get there one day; he’s such a good player.”