AAP Rugby

Panthers’ youngster ready for senior role

By AAP Newswire

He's played just 19 games in his NRL career, but Jarome Luai insists he's ready to become Penrith's lead playmaker when the season resumes.

A two-game suspension to star halfback Nathan Cleary for being "untruthful" with the NRL integrity unit over a social distancing breach means a likely call-up for another up and comer, Matt Burton.

Should Burton, who played his solitary first-grade game late last year, get picked, the Panthers would field the most inexperienced halves combination in round three.

But that is of no concern to Luai and the rest of the playing group.

"I played a few games with him in reserve grade, so we've got a few games under our belt together. He's doing really well at training," Luai told AAP.

"We've got a lot of faith in Burto to get the job done."

Burton, 20, showed why he is highly regarded by the club when he impressed with a composed performance against Cronulla on debut.

Luai, who is just 23, likens Burton to Cleary.

"He's a bit similar to Nath in terms of having that calming influence out there on the field, especially out on that edge," he said.

"He's got a really good kicking game. He's a big frame, he can run the ball.

"He's just a playmaker."

Luai and Burton will enter Sunday's match against Newcastle having played just 20 NRL games combined.

That stretches to 174 when the rest of the Panthers spine is added, which includes 109 from hooker Api Koroisau and another 45 from likely fullback Dylan Edwards.

Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce has 278 games alone, but Luai insists he isn't daunted by the prospect of taking a more senior role.

"I'm a pretty confident guy," he said.

"I've been around the boys a lot. I'm pretty sure they've got a lot of faith in me to get the job done for Nath and the boys.

"We've got a really good connection.

"I personally know that Nath plays a big role in our team.

"Those first two games we played already, he played a big role in getting the job done.

"Being that elder half now, I've got to take some responsibility and take some pressure off Burto as well."