Matt Burton's attitude has been praised all year and proud Penrith coach Ivan Cleary paid tribute to his departing young star after Sunday's grand final win.
Burton was one of the most spoken about players early in the 2021 season as the Canterbury Bulldogs pushed to have the St John's junior released from his Penrith deal one year early.
The Panthers held firm and, as has been said countless time since Sunday's triumph, it proved to be a masterstroke.
Burton, who will play in the halves at the Bulldogs next season, nailed down a spot in the centres at Penrith this year and went on to be named in the Dally M Team of the Year and score the opening try in Sunday's 14-12 grand final victory.
"Burto was phenomenal," Cleary said, admitting the realisation he's leaving will come soon.
"He's such a good kid. Yeah, I guess reality will bite at some point.
"We had a laugh yesterday (Saturday) actually saying 'yeah, he's a pretty good centre'. Anyway, that's life, so... You know what? Couldn't have written that story either."
Group 11 secretary Paul Loxley, who saw Burton play in a Group 11 grand final for Dubbo CYMS just three years ago, also had nothing but praise for the 21-year-old.
Loxley spoke about the impact Burton and Dubbo teammate Isaah Yeo will have on young players in the region but said the youngster deserved a huge amount of credit for the way he handled himself all year.
Questions towards Burton early in the year ranged from if he wanted to leave the Panthers early through to if he was regretting signing with the Belmore club given the success of Penrith.
But the former NSW Country junior, Cleary, and everyone involved in the Panthers held firm each time.
"Burton, who went from lucky to getting a first grade spot last year to being talked about as leaving (Penrith) early and then ending up Dally M Centre of the Year," Loxley said.
"That was incredible."
The challenge for Burton is to now help the Bulldogs climb the NRL ladder.
The Bulldogs won just six times on the way to finishing with the wooden spoon this season while they've finished in the bottom three each of the past three years.
The club, now coached by former Panthers assistant coach Trent Barrett, hasn't made the eight since 2016 but Burton's signing was one of a number of major deals secured for 2022.
Burton will be joined in blue and white next season by the likes of fellow Panther and Wellington junior Brent Naden, Josh Addo-Carr, Tevita Pangai Jnr, Matt Dufty, Paul Vaughan, and John Asiata.
The Bulldogs also announced on Tuesday the signing of Coonamble junior and Rabbitohs outside back Braidon Burns.
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