Phil Gould has urged New South Wales selectors not to forget about Matt Burton when they discuss how to solve a backline injury crisis.
The Blues are on the hunt for a new three-quarter line after injuries to Latrell Mitchell (hamstring) and Tom Trbojevic (shoulder) ruled the incumbent centres out of game one, to be played in Sydney on June 8.
Coach Brad Fittler and his brains trust are frantically figuring out who can step up to wear the No.3 and No.4 jumpers, as they prepare to unveil their Blues squad on Sunday evening.
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The two clear frontrunners are Penrith centre Stephen Crichton and his Brisbane counterpart Kotoni Staggs.
But Gould has thrown a wildcard into the mix.
“The Panthers were the premiers last year, the centres were Burton and Crichton,” Gould told Wide World of Sports’ Six Tackles with Gus podcast.
“I don’t want the selectors to forget Matt Burton, who’s obviously learning a new position at the Bulldogs and is making a very good fist of it.
“He was the Dally M Centre of the Year last year, and Burton and Crichton have great combination with the Penrith halves, in (Nathan) Cleary and (Jarome) Luai.
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“I just don’t want people to forget that. Don’t write Matt Burton off as an Origin prospect there for NSW to play in the centres
“Brian To’o plays on that (left) wing as well, and Stephen Crichton we know can play anywhere. Both players provide great versatility throughout the squad if they had to make changes during the game.
“Don’t write off that Panthers combination, which I think would be extremely important for NSW going forward.”
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The majority of pundits – including Blues great Paul Gallen, who picked a full Blues 17 for game one in his Monday column for Wide World of Sports – are tipping Crichton to win the left centre spot, and Staggs to line up on the right side of the NSW attack.
But if Burton was to beat Staggs to the role he would almost certainly play at left centre, and Crichton would go to the right, where they played during Penrith’s premiership victory last season.
That would put Burton back inside Panthers winger To’o, and outside Penrith five-eighth Luai.
Burton has since left Penrith and joined Canterbury, where he is playing five-eighth.
Gould was asked if Burton could be picked for NSW but wear the No.14 jumper rather than a starting position.
“They’re not going to pick him at 14. Pick him in the side,” he said.
“I don’t see Burton as a 14, I think Burton has to play centre. I just hope selectors don’t forget what he did last year, his combination with the Penrith boys. And I think Stephen Crichton should be a certainty, his form has been terrific.”
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