Penrith superstar Nathan Cleary insists Belmore-bound teammate Matt Burton has been unfairly treated in Canterbury’s push to have the young gun released early from his contract with the 2020 NRL grand finalists.
Burton will join the Bulldogs on a lucrative three-year deal from 2022, but Canterbury want him straight away, with the talented playmaker set to earn significantly more money if the Panthers let him go.
Currently playing in the Canterbury Cup second-grade competition, Burton is stuck behind Cleary and Jarome Luai in the pecking order for Penrith’s halves.
If he was already at Belmore, Burton would almost certainly be lining up against Cleary and Luai in the Bulldogs’ hosting of Penrith on Saturday at Bankwest Stadium.
But Cleary insists reports the 21-year-old wants out of the Panthers are way off the mark.
“Burto’s a great player and he’s probably looked about the wrong way at the moment. Burto’s had nothing bad to say,” Cleary said on Tuesday.
“The headlines you read, it’s definitely not coming from Burto’s mouth. It’s definitely not what he’s saying around training.
“I’ve loved being able to train alongside Burto. He’s obviously a great young player, he’s going to be a superstar of the future but it’s his attitude that’s the most pleasing thing at the moment.
“He’s probably been one of the best trainers the whole pre-season and it’s not affecting him too much at the moment.
“He’s never complained. So it’s probably been blown a bit out of proportion.”
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary will likely call on Burton not only if there’s an injury in the halves this season, but also when his son is inevitably recalled for a third straight year of NSW State of Origin duty.
“We’re in a very lucky position that we have a player there like Burto able to fill a number of spots. He’s trained in a number of positions,” Nathan Cleary said.
“That’s why I want to stick up for him a bit. I don’t think he’s the one saying these things (about wanting to leave).
“He’s a knockabout kind of guy. He doesn’t say too much. He puts his head down, he works hard and wants to get better.
“He’s been training really well and he played really well on the weekend for the club and he’s a very valuable asset to the Penrith football club.”