When the Bulldogs lured Matt Burton away from Penrith it was viewed as a major coup for a struggling club.
Burton had emerged as one of the hottest prospects in the NRL, despite playing predominantly out of position in the centres under Ivan Cleary.
His would be one of the most sought after signatures, something the Panthers were acutely aware of.
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According to the Sydney Morning Herald, who detailed how the Bulldogs deal went down, the Panthers begged Burton to give them more time before making his decision.
“The thing we said was ‘if you don’t want to sign with us, just don’t sign with anyone else yet’,” Panthers CEO Matt Cameron told the Herald.
“We said, ‘let us show you over summer what we think we can do with you, because we think you can be one of the best centres in the game.”
The Bulldogs, however, pulled out all the stops to get their man.
They invited Burton’s mother Lisa to Bulldogs’ legend Peter Mortimer’s winery. Even the club’s major sponsor Arthur Laundy got involved travelling to Dubbo with his son Craig to meet with Lisa at their family home.
“I rang Lisa and invited her to lunch at the hotel we own in Dubbo,” Laundy told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“She didn’t want to go to lunch, so my son Craig and I went around hers for a couple of glasses of water and a bit of a chat. I said to her, ‘I know he’s very secure and happy at Penrith, but if he does come over I’ll make sure that he’s looked after’.
“She’s got a mind of her own. I wasn’t there to convince her. I was there to purely tell her that if he was to come across to Canterbury, I would make sure he’s looked after.
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It had the desired effect. While the Sharks came hard for the 22-year-old, it would be the chance to play in the halves that would see Burton shift across town to call Belmore home from 2022 on a three-year, $1.5 million deal.
“At the time it was still a lot of money for a player that hadn’t played much grade,” former Bulldogs CEO Andrew Hill told the Herald.
“But some you get right, some you don’t. This one we were all confident that he was a great player, a great young man, committed and conducted himself well.
“We were confident that he would turn out to be the player we thought he would and last year he showed that. I think everyone at the club now would be very happy that we signed him when we did”
They also had designs on getting him early.
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But despite Burton’s manager David Riolo asking for a release, the Panthers held their ground.
“From the day that Dave Riolo rang me to tell me that he wasn’t accepting our offer, I made it abundantly clear to Dave that we weren’t going to release him, unless of course it was advantageous to the Panthers,” Cameron told the Herald..
“We told him that we’re not going to treat Matt any differently, but at the same token we don’t expect to be treated any differently.
Cameron said Burton never once kicked stones.
“If Matt was upset, he never once showed it. That’s a sign of the person he is. He’s a champion of a kid.”
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