Coach Cleary sets NRL challenge for Burton

Pamela Whaley
Penrith coach Ivan Cleary wants Matt Burton (R) to keep up pressure for a top-grade starting spot

Penrith NRL coach Ivan Cleary wants Matt Burton to turn up the heat on five-eighth Jarome Luai for a starting spot in 2020.

The 20-year-old played the first two games of the resumed season in place of suspended star Nathan Cleary, but was dropped to the bench in favour of Luai for Friday's clash with Parramatta.

Only three games into his NRL career, Burton already looks comfortable in the top grade with two tries, a try-assist and seven tackle breaks from his past two games.

And while coach Cleary will persevere this week with the halves pairing he had intended for the season, he wants Burton to make him question it.

"I hope it gets real tough (to choose between them)," he said on Thursday.

"I don't say that lightly and I don't say that just from the way he's played. There's a whole lot of factors into, not so much why you pick players, but how you put teams together.

"Especially in the spine, where a lot of it is around combination and personality and how all of that works.

"For Matt, he's just got to keep turning up and playing footy and we'll take that as it comes."

Since Burton's debut last season, Cleary has been impressed with his development from one game to the next, but wants to see what impact he can have from the bench against the Eels.

After the round-three draw with Newcastle, Burton was criticised for not icing the game when he missed five field-goal attempts.

But against the Warriors, he was courageous and crucial to the win.

Cleary said the decision to bench Burton this week wasn't to continue his development, rather a genuine confidence in his ability to contribute to a victory.

"Last week, how courageous he was, continuing stepping up to the plate and not looking for anyone else to try and take it for him," Cleary said.

"He turned up after (the draw against the Knights) and had a really strong game. I think that says a bit about his character.

"He's got a lot of ability, but he's very young and he's only just starting his journey but he's certainly shown some good signs."