The big mistake Panthers are making in Burton contract saga
Former Panthers boss Phil Gould believes the club risks burning their bridges with back-up half Matt Burton if they don’t let him go to the Bulldogs this season.
Burton is set to join Canterbury in 2022, but has been agitating for an early release due to the fact his path to first grade at Penrith is blocked by Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
The Panthers have played hard-ball with the Bulldogs and are reluctant to release Burton until after the Origin series at the earliest, unless they can come up with a suitable player swap.
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However Gould believes the Panthers risk any future reunion with Burton if they don’t allow him to pursue a regular first grade spot now.
“There comes a time where you’ve got to think of the best interests of the player and it’s quite obvious, the Panthers have got those two great halves out there in Luai and Nathan Cleary and they’ve also got a player out there called Tyrone May who’s a very very adept player too,” Gould told said Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“And there’s a couple of other players coming through the system you haven’t seen yet. It’s an embarrassment of riches really, and here’s Matt Burton who’s a very talented player, and I spoke to you about him a couple of years ago; he’s spinning his wheels.
“I don’t think it’s doing his career any benefit out there waiting for a game in the centres or just training against the first grade players, he needs to be playing NRL football, he can’t learn anything more in the second tier.”
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Burton has scored three tries in six games for the Panthers since his debut in 2019, but would have played a lot more first grade if he wasn’t stuck behind two great halves at Penrith.
The Panthers want to hold onto Burton to help with depth in the halves as they plot a premiership assault in 2021.
There is the real chance both of Penrith’s starting playmakers in Cleary and Luai will play Origin, so Burton is a valuable commodity.
However Gould, who played a hands on role with recruitment and retention while at the Panthers believes there are times when a player’s interest should be put first, even ahead of the club’s short-term interests.
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“Sometimes it’s in the best interests of the player just to make a decision and let him go,” Gould said.
“And if you do that and you do it amicably, you do it in his best interests, you can buy him back in a few years’ time. The relationship is solid. You’ve done the right thing by the player and you’re strong anyway; you’re going to have to have injuries to play him out there, which you don’t want.
“ … It’s sad sometimes you’ve got to let a good kid go but it’s in his best interests. And if in a couple of years’ time they can’t afford both Luai and Cleary, they’ve got a relationship with Matt Burton, they can buy him back.”
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Another option would be to loan Burton to the Bulldogs for a period of the season, which would allow the Panthers to bring him back if injury struck.
The NRL is in the process of looking at a loan system that would enable clubs to give players an opportunity for game time if their paths to first grade are blocked, but it is unlikely to be introduced until 2022 at the earliest.
Gould believes such a system would have been music to his ears if it was available during his time at Penrith.
“So rather than spin their wheels there I would have gladly given them to another club to go and play first grade for half a season if I could bring them back to first grade when I needed them,” Gould said.
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“So a fellow like Matt Burton under that model, I would give him to another club for 10 or 12 weeks and say ‘go and play NRL every week’. And then if there was an injury to Cleary or Luai at Panthers, ‘well, we need him back now’.
“That would be how it works, I think you should be able to loan players and bring them back.”
The other argument is that Burton can still hone his craft in reserve grade at the Panthers, but Gould believes some players simply outgrow that level of competition.
“There are a lot of players who get a lot of benefit out of playing second-tier football and for your older players who are at the back end of their careers and can’t quite get a game in the first grade side, it’s a good level for them to go back to and keep ticking over until they’re called upon again. They know what it is,” Gould said.
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“But for some younger players, sometimes they need better than that and if they spend too long there they’re going to lose ground on their counterparts and their teammates because they’re not experienced…
“For a younger player who’s really an NRL player, which Matt Burton is, the second-tier is really not the place for them and they need to be playing first grade…
“Some kids need to play NRL to improve and I think Matt Burton needs to play NRL to improve. It’s two years since he debuted and he’s only had a handful of games since, so I just don’t think it’s fair on him.”
Originally published asThe big mistake Panthers are making in Burton contract saga
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