Ivan Cleary has told his team it can’t be Matt Burton’s job alone to fill Nathan Cleary’s boots when Penrith return without their suspended halfback on Sunday.
The Panthers will run out the least experienced halves combination of any team this year against Newcastle, with Cleary’s absence to leave Burton partnering Jarome Luai.
The pair have never played together outside of pre-season trials, with Sunday just Burton’s second NRL match and Luai’s 20th.
Coach Cleary refused to be drawn into talk about his son on Saturday, following a two-game ban during the break for misleading the integrity unit on a social-distancing breach.
But he said the emphasis had to be on the entire team performing around the young duo against a Knights side also missing Kalyn Ponga.
“As much as it is Jarome’s job (to be the senior half), it’s everyone’s job to do their job properly,” Cleary said.
“We’re not going to rely on Jarome or Burto, and we’re not going to rely on (hooker) Api Koroisau.
“It’s going to be a team performance.
“We’ve got young halves, but what we’ve seen so far on the training paddock and in their limited time in first grade, these guys are very capable.”
Penrith let five-eighth James Maloney head to the English Super League at the end of last year, while back-up half Tyrone May also remains suspended.
Nathan Cleary’s absence will also leave Penrith without a recognised goalkicker, with Ivan joking it would be a case of “scorer kicks” on Sunday.
Luai has previously taken the tee when Maloney and Cleary were both out for State of Origin in 2017.
But the coach has no doubt Burton has shown what it takes in the past 12 months to rise to the occasion.
The 20-year-old starred outside Cleary in his debut at five-eighth last year, setting up a try in a 26-20 win over Cronulla.
The Dubbo junior was also man of the match in NSW’s under-20s Origin win over Queensland last year.
“The bonus is we’ve had a few weeks of preparation for this game,” Cleary said.
“We have had a lot of time to get our combinations going for this week.
“(Matt) had that one game last year. What that did show he’s got the temperament.
“He’s trained with us all pre-season and handled that really well. He’s fortunate to have a couple of weeks up his sleeve learning his role for this game.
“We’re not expecting that he wins us this game.
“But we’re confident in his ability and his character. We just want him to go out there and do his role for the team.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Penrith are aiming to win their first three games for just the second time in their history
* Newcastle are also undefeated, and are looking to go 3-0 for the first time since 2015
* The last time they met, Penrith put on their biggest win over Newcastle with a 54-10 flogging in the final round of last year