Panthers teen made of right stuff: Cleary
It was only in a customary training run with their reserve grade team in late June that Penrith's NRL squad got their first glimpse of Matt Burton.
Six weeks on and the teenage sensation will now run out alongside them in a stunning ascension into the top grade for Thursday's crunch clash with Cronulla.
"Burto's come from the clouds, really," coach Ivan Cleary said on Thursday.
"He's been playing our Canterbury Cup team for a number of weeks now. We normally train against those guys each week.
"A few weeks back, from the very first time that he trained against the NRL squad, they worked him out pretty quick. That he had a lot of talent."
And Panthers fans will be hoping all of it will be on show as Cleary's side aims to complete their mid-season revival and sneak into the finals.
Penrith's hopes of a September appearance looked dead and buried after losing six on the bounce and slumped to last spot on the table in mid-May.
A seven-game winning streak catapulted them back into the top eight, only to tumble back out after dropping their past two.
A one-game suspension to James Maloney, and injuries to back-up playmaker Jarome Luai and hooker Wayde Egan have set them back further.
Enter 19-year-old Burton, and another debutant in front-rower Spencer Leniu, against a red-hot Sharks outfit gunning for a third straight victory.
With just four games remaining after this weekend, what could Cleary possibly say to reduce the pressure on the club's latest emerging pair of youngsters?
"Just enjoy it," Cleary said.
"I believe in him. At the end of the day, when you pick a rookie, you're never really sure how it's going to go.
"But I feel really confident that Matt, not only does he have the skillset, but he's got the right temperament.
"We've obviously got Spencer Leniu who's making his debut as well. That's kind of good because those guys have played a lot together. I think that helps."
The teenage duo join Brent Naden, Brian To'o, Mitch Kenny, and Liam Martin as rookies in a roster that has undergone a mid-season shake-up under Cleary.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Waqa Blake have already departed, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard is tipped to also move elsewhere.
However Cleary, who made a controversial return to the Panthers just last year, has no issues putting faith in the club's seemingly never-ending supply of talent.
"It's been that sort of year for us, which again is exciting," he said.
"None of those guys have ever let us down. So looking forward to seeing these guys go well again tomorrow."
© AAP 2019