Matt Burton can’t say where the rumours started about him playing centre in 2024 but what he can say is that five-eighth is the position he wants to own as he looks to steer the Bulldogs back into finals contention.
Burton has endured two lean seasons at Belmore after leaving Penrith with a premiership ring at the end of 2021, but the 23-year-old is adamant the turnaround will come from a change of attitude rather than a change of position.
“My preference is certainly to play No.6, get my hands on the ball and direct the team around, that’s the player I want to be,” Burton told media on Wednesday.
“I’m working my backside off to play five-eighth and I have spoken to the coach [Cameron Ciraldo] about little effort areas I need to improve in and if I can do that I can put my best foot forward for the team.
“There were stages in games last year where I needed to step up and I didn’t really provide that so this year if I can work on that it will help the team. I want to be a leader of this side and help the boys as much as I can.
"[Fellow co-captain] Reed Mahoney and I work off each other. We were both new to the role in 2023 and we are figuring things out as we go."
Burton focused and working hard
Burton’s final eight games as a Panther were as a centre and he also wore the No.3 jersey at Origin level in 2022 but all 43 games he has played in blue and white have been at either halfback or five-eighth.
The man with the game’s most feared floating bomb produced 16 try assists and 14 forced dropouts in 2023 as the Bulldogs limped to a 7-17 finish for the second straight year, but the co-captain senses the dawn of a new era with the arrival of nine new faces.
Foremost among the recruits is three-time premiership winner Stephen Crichton, a man accustomed to performing on the biggest stage, while Josh Curran, Kurt Mann and Drew Hutchison bring depth and versatility to the club.
With Jaeman Salmon, Blake Taaffe and Jake Turpin also making a new home at Belmore in 2024, competition for spots is sure to fierce, but it’s one of the incumbents Burton believes is the frontrunner to partner him in the halves.
“Toby Sexton showed some really good signs at halfback at the end of last year and he is training the house down,” Burton said.
“We formed a pretty good combination there [in the last couple of months] and he’s looking good.
“There’s a great vibe around the place at the moment and we know we have to turn up here and work hard every day - that’s the only way to get results.
Most-watched tries of 2023: No. 41
“With lots of new faces there will be competition for spots, nothing is locked in and it helps having lots of versatility.”
Having played five-eighth, centre, halfback and come off the bench during his 79-game career, Burton knows all about the value of being adaptable, but when the Bulldogs take to CommBank Stadium in Round 1, it's the No.6 he plans on wearing as they look to launch their season with a victory over the Eels.