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Unwelcome Matt: Why Penrith snubbed invite to Bulldogs’ Bankwest suite

Ivan Cleary was disappointed in those comments when speaking in his post-match press conference.

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“To say we’re not thinking of the kid is wrong,” Ivan said. “Would he prefer to play first grade? Of course he would. But he’s played a grand total of 11 reserve-grade games and maybe six or seven first-grade games. That’s it. He’s just turned 21, he’s got the world at his feet and who knows, the Dogs might actually thank us this time next year.

“There was a period in the pre-season where I thought he was a bit distracted. We spoke and I think since then I reckon he’s been really good. I don’t know if he’s getting dialogue from Canterbury or what but all I can see is if he’s happy, he’s training hard and he’s playing well.”

Penrith’s decision to hold on to the five-eighth is likely to be vindicated this week with Burton in line to play his first NRL game for the season. Nathan Cleary is in huge doubt after he copped a swinging arm from former teammate Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on Saturday that has left the Bulldogs winger facing up to a three-game ban on top of his sin-binning during the game.

Cleary was taken from the field late in the match and later passed the head injury assessment, however Penrith are concerned about the short five-day turnaround and the health of their star playmaker.

Matt Burton may come into the Panthers side if Nathan Cleary is deemed unfit.

Matt Burton may come into the Panthers side if Nathan Cleary is deemed unfit.Credit:Getty

Cleary has an appointment with the club’s doctor on Monday morning, with the Panthers unable to make a decision until at least two nights after the head knock. If Cleary is ruled out, Burton is expected to slot into the No.7 jumper and partner Jarome Luai in the halves.

“He said he was dazed after the hit,” Luai said of Cleary. “He is the master of the team and he gets us around the park, so [going up against Melbourne] would be a bit different without Nath out there.

“It will be up to coach, if he’s out or not. We really need to start well against Melbourne. That’s something we didn’t do in the grand final, so we’re looking to do that.”

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