Panthers boss says there's 'something wrong with the system' after Bulldogs snare Burton
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Panthers boss says there's 'something wrong with the system' after Bulldogs snare Burton

Frustrated Panthers chief executive Brian Fletcher wants the NRL to examine salary cap concessions for development clubs whose best juniors are poached by rivals, claiming "something is wrong with the system" after Matt Burton's defection to Canterbury.

Trent Barrett's raid on the club he helped to this year's grand final on the back of a mesmerising 17-game winning run landed its biggest blow, with Burton signing a three-year deal to join Canterbury from 2022.

The Panthers won't consider an early release for Burton, whose desire to play in the halves is being blocked by State of Origin squad members Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai. Penrith coach Ivan Cleary has plans to use him as either a centre or edge back-rower while providing cover for his star playmakers.

Burton is also on relatively meagre money next season, meaning the Panthers would gain little salary cap relief by agreeing to an early exit. But the club, whose rejuvenation has primarily been built on the back of a long-term and relentless development program in regional NSW, has now lost two of its brightest prospects in the space of a fortnight.

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Fullback Daine Laurie, whose path into Penrith's top side also has obstacles, will link with the Tigers in 2022.

Burton, who has impressed in six NRL games and was considered one of the game's most in-demand free agents, and Laurie will wear Penrith colours for another 12 months before joining rival clubs.

Matt Burton has signed a three-year deal to join Canterbury from 2022.

Matt Burton has signed a three-year deal to join Canterbury from 2022.Credit:Getty

The Panthers have already flagged cutting their spending on development given the COVID pandemic and the news of Burton's exit will only bring greater focus on the cost of building the most powerful junior nursery in the game.

"It's disappointing for our fans when we've brought [Burton] up from 17 years of age and had coaches coaching him to get his skills where they are, and to have him snatched out of your hands and get no reward for the efforts we've put in to promoting the game [is hard to take]," Fletcher said.

"There's something wrong with the system. It doesn't encourage anybody to have a pathway system and development system like we've got.

There's something wrong with the system. It doesn't encourage anybody to have a pathway system and development system like we've got.

Brian Fletcher

"Why would you have one when they get to the potential of playing NRL, someone comes and grabs them? Hopefully we've got a few more coming through the pipeline, but there should be some compensation there."

Canterbury's financial muscle was also a large factor for Burton, who will partner Kyle Flanagan in the halves at Belmore. Barrett is also about to welcome Nick Cotric and Jack Hetherington into his 2021 squad.

For the minor premiers, though, their roster is already under siege with the club planning further talks this week to convince boom centre Stephen Crichton to stay. Penrith have already tabled offers for Luai and Isaah Yeo, and any loss from that trio will be considered a major blow after their record-breaking season.

Their fans are the latest to express displeasure with the NRL's trading frenzy, which in the past fortnight has seen Burton, Laurie and Newcastle-bound Jake Clifford announce deals to move in 2022 while under contract to their current club for 2021.

Trent Barrett has lured Matt Burton to Canterbury from 2022.

Trent Barrett has lured Matt Burton to Canterbury from 2022.

Tigers prop Josh Aloiai is also agitating for an early release to join Manly after all but agreeing to a lucrative multi-year deal from 2022 on the northern beaches.

NRL chief executive Andrew Abdo said he could understand the frustration of Penrith fans as the NRL again discusses the prospect of defined trade windows.

"We’re very fortunate the Panthers invest a lot into development and to pathways, and they keep on identifying new stars," he said. "I’m confident they’ll continue to produce superstars.

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"Some of the clubs have different strategies about how they manage their roster and it’s why the salary cap acts as a real leveller. Is it perfect? Probably not. Can we refine and make the system better? Absolutely. That’s what we’ve got to look at.

"Regardless of whether the system is right or wrong, we have to try to make it better."

Penrith general manager Matt Cameron said the club "respected" Burton's decision, which could be seen as the most significant signing for a club that only narrowly avoided this year's wooden spoon. The Bulldogs have missed the finals for the past four years.

"Matt is a great talent and someone that was highly sought after, so we are delighted that he has chosen to join our club and be part of what we believe to be a new beginning for the Bulldogs," Canterbury chief executive Andrew Hill said.

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