So impressive was the 20-year-old in his preferred five-eighth position he has suddenly left coach Ivan Cleary with a selection headache and whether to play him or Jarome Luai alongside the returning Nathan Cleary.
Penrith pin-up Cleary will return from a two-match suspension against Parramatta next Friday. Luai came through the grades with Cleary and started the year with him.
Cleary had no idea which way he would go, but was delighted with Burton’s bounce-back in just his third top-flight game.
“I felt the criticism was unwarranted last week. Sure, he missed a few field goals but he was courageous, he kept stepping up and getting in the right position, they just weren’t going over,” Cleary said.
“He walked in with his head up during the week and trained well.
“He put in a good performance together tonight. I’m very proud of him.”
The Panthers remain undefeated after four games and they did well after punching out 90 minutes last weekend for no result.
There were certainly no signs of fatigue with agile front-rower James Fisher-Harris running for nearly 170m without a break in the first half. The tough-as-nails Kiwi finished with 239m.
Centre Dean Whare still found enough energy to produce the shot of the night when he whacked Adam Pompey into touch, which drew a decent cheer from the support staff allowed into the venue.
Having Cleary back on deck next week against the Eels cannot be under-estimated in a match that could pit two undefeated enemies against each other.
Cleary was inspirational in the club’s two opening wins before COVID shut down the competition. A TikTok video then shut down Cleary’s hopes of featuring in the NRL’s return.
“Nathan is our on-field general, he orchestrates the play, where we go, he looks after the kicking game. It will be good to have him back, for sure,” Cleary said.
A Luai bomb was knocked on by Patrick Herbert and Burton was on the spot to score an easy try after 12 minutes.
Burton could not believe his luck when a Blake Green kick slammed into his legs, ricocheted 20m before the five-eighth with the Stephen Larkham-like headgear and almost-identical big galloping action charged a further 40m to land a double.
Luai spotted no last line of defence and grubbered for himself to extend Penrith’s lead before half-time.
Burton was at it again when the Panthers spread it left and the five-eighth put Billy Burns into a gap for a try.
The Warriors’ 44-point turnaround from the Dragons win will not be lost on the Red V faithful who were already concerned about how poorly their own team was travelling.
Fullback Dylan Edwards’ availability will be another bonus for the Panthers after injuring his hamstring during the mini pre-season. He would have worn the No. 1 jersey against the Warriors had it not been for the short turnaround, and will be a straight swap for Caleb Aekins.
Stephen Kearney said the Panthers were allowed to gather too much momentum and they could not claw their way back, a trend that has quickly emerged under the one referee and introduction of the six-to-go rule. The Warriors must re-group for next Friday’s ‘home’ clash against North Queensland on the Central Coast.
PENRITH 26 (M Burton 2 B Burns J Luai J Mansour tries S Crichton 3 goals) bt NZ WARRIORS 0 at Campbelltown Sports Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin.
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.