When Dubbo product Matt Burton was set to make his NRL debut for the Penrith Panthers this year, they had to take his headshots for gameday content, as they didn't have any on file.
Burton’s meteoric rise to the NRL came in Round 21 after James Maloney was suspended by the NRL judiciary for tripping and Jarome Luai was ruled out with an eye injury.
Before that, he was playing in the Panthers Jersey Flegg squad and helped them to a preliminary finals berth. He then received a late call-up to be part of the NSW Under-20s State of Origin side where he was one of NSW’s best players with two tries, a try assist and a man-of-the-match performance.
Within a matter of weeks, he had made his senior debut in the Canterbury Cup and when he got the call up to replace Maloney, he wasn't on the club's development list and the Panthers had to seek an exemption from the NRL for him to be cleared for the high stakes clash against Cronulla.
As recently as last year, Burton was playing with Dubbo CYMS in Group 11 and now he was running out onto a packed Panthers Stadium as the starting five-eighth.
The 19-year-old looked right at home, channelling Cooper Cronk when he calmly kicked for touch multiples times to slow the game down. He also kicked a perfect grubber into the in-goal for Brent Naden to score the opening points of the game.
In his post-game interview, he held back tears as he revealed a childhood friend by the name of Sam Fraser died when they were 16 years old in an accident at the Macquarie River – the black headgear Burton wears every game belonged to Sam.
This fairy tale story is set to continue in 2020, with Burton now battling with Jarome Luai for the vacant five-eighth spot following the departure of James Maloney for France. They both have a new mentor in returning assistant coach Trent Barrett, which will no doubt help Burton thrive.