Matt Burton joins Canterbury as a five-eighth in 2022 but made a convincing case as a class centre in the NRL grand final, just as Penrith believed he would.
Playing out of position in his final game for the Panthers, the Dubbo-born star was close to best on the field in Sunday night's 14-12 grand final win over South Sydney.
The 22-year-old try-scorer will move to the Bulldogs next season for a spot in the halves with Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary ahead of him at the Panthers.
However, watching his performance on Sunday night was bittersweet for the club who desperately tried to sell Burton a spot in the centres to keep him at Penrith.
“He's been crazy. He's not even a centre,” Luai 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.”
Burton missed out on the No.6 jersey when James Maloney left the club at the end of 2019, with Luai chosen to partner Cleary instead.
Cleary and Laui have now combined for a State of Origin series win for NSW and an NRL premiership for the Panthers, but letting Burton slip to another club was the consequence.
Luai admits that Burton's breakthrough season has forced him to become a batter player.
“Yeah it did,” he said.
“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's an awesome player and I definitely think he might see this stage again in the near future.”
The Panthers tried to convince Burton he could be a class centre to keep him on the roster and on Sunday night he proved their point.
Burton played 19 of 26 games this season in the centres but his ruthless defence and game smarts in the grand final showed he can excel on the big stage.
“Burto was phenomenal,” said coach Ivan Cleary.
“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.”Internet Explorer Channel Network