Bulldogs half Matt Burton has said he is ready to fill the NSW Blues centre spot as Latrell Mitchell’s replacement.
The incumbent Rabbitohs fullback suffered a hamstring injury in Round 5, likely ruling him out for eight weeks and the Origin series opener on June 8.
While the 22-year-old has shifted positions after his cross-town move, Burton believes his experience as a premiership winning centre for the Panthers should hold him in good sted should he be called upon by coach Brad Fittler.
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When asked if he could fill the role, Burton was adamant he could step up.
“One hundred per cent. I think if anyone had the chance to put on the jersey it would be a massive privilege,” Burton said to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“I learned heaps (last year). To get thrown into that role, I was a bit nervous at the start, but it obviously worked out all right. I loved it there.
“There’s a lot of crafty centres in the game, so you have to work out what they’re doing, but in attack, it’s pretty simple. I found it pretty comfortable there.
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“I wasn’t even picturing myself being in that [Penrith] side at the start of the year. When I got told I was playing centre, I was thinking, ‘I don’t know what to do. I’ve never played there before’.
“Once I got in there I didn’t have to worry about anything. I just worried about having fun and playing footy. I think it’s definitely helped me, having that experience.”
Burton won Dally M Centre of the Year in 2021, pairing Justin Olam, but will have stiff competition.
NSW boasts a wealth of talent in the centre position, with former teammate Stephen Crichton in form, the Dragons Zac Lomax performing admirably, while Broncos gun Kotoni Staggs returned to his brilliant best in Round 5.
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Currently Origin would be an outside focus for Burton, who will be hoping to guide his side to their second win over the Rabbitohs on Friday.
Burton, in tandem with new partner Kyle Flanagan have been tasked with turning the club’s season around, with only one win over the Cowboys in 2022.
The gun half has faith in coach Trent Barrett’s decision to utilise a third halves pairing.
“Kyle has been killing it in NSW Cup so it was good for him to get the opportunity to come back up here, and he’s taken control of the side, steering us around. He’ll only get better each week he goes on, and he’s helping my game, freeing me up a bit,” Burton said.
“I felt comfortable on the weekend with him.”
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