It's starting to feel like '01: Burt

NRL.com journalist Paul Johnson catches up with Eels flyer Luke Burt to discuss Parramatta’s sizzling form, a potential and unexpected premiership… and the hurt inflicted upon him and his teammates in seasons past.


Right now, the Eels are electric. Once just a pipe-dream, the thought of Parramatta becoming the first team to win the NRL title from the dreaded eighth spot, gifting club stalwarts Nathan Cayless, Luke Burt and Nathan Hindmarsh a well-deserved premiership, is now a stark possibility.

Like the fans, the players are beginning to believe the dream is on the verge of becoming a reality - with rejuvenated winger Luke Burt talking premierships, happiness, attitude… and even comparing the mood within the team to that which radiated from Sydney’s west back in 2001. That year, the Eels swept all before them only to falter against Newcastle in the Grand Final.

“The feeling is getting like that. Obviously 2001 was a lot more consistent, but over the last few weeks the vibe has been great,” Burt explained, fresh off his team’s shock win over the minor premiers.

“The confidence is up and the boys are enjoying training on and off the field, we’re always smiling and happy.”

“It’s hard to compare this team to that team [2001], but we’ve got a good balance in the side right now.  It didn’t always look like that. We lost Feleti Mateo and Kris Keating early on but then Daniel Mortimer and Jeff Robson stepped in. Morts has been great since and Robbo has done his job calmly and consistently.

“They are definitely doing everything that is asked of them. Robbo has been around for a while without having played consistent first grade, while Morts has come up from the under 20’s and killed it.

“Then Haynesy does all those freaky things at the back, whilst the likes of Hindy and Cayless work hard up front.”

Burt’s growing combination with Hayne - both on the kick chase and in general play - has been a highlight of the Eels’ resurgence, as the one time wunderkind combines with a new breed of superstar.

But a modest Burt insists his form has plenty to do with the Dally M Medallist playing inside him.

“He’s one of those blokes who can do most things. I just try and trail off him and pick up the pieces.”

Those ‘pieces’ must include the 40 metre field goal which broke Dragons’ hearts in the 76th minute of their quarter final, gifting the Eels an unassailable seven point lead.

Burt was typically humble about the moment.

“I’ve been mucking around at training with them for a long time, but I don’t think I’ve ever hit one that sweetly. I can’t remember what I did with the kick or how I celebrated. I might have to watch the clip somewhere.”

“It’s up there as one of the best moments in my career with the Grand Final and debuts.

“I don’t think I’ve been that happy after a game for a long time. Usually you have ups and downs post-game, but I was just happy for a good three hours and I haven’t felt that way after a game in a long time. Just really, really happy.”

Actually, the whole team is happy… and Burt reckons it’s part of the reason for their success.

“I think we’re here because we are enjoying our footy more. This run has been great and everyone is excited and working hard at training.  

“We’re working hard for each other on and off the field. At the start of this year, and even last year, it wasn’t always fun but now we’re on a big high.”

Regardless of what the critics reported, the Round 26 loss against the Dragons didn’t dent the mood.

“It did us good to be honest, it gave us the bit of a kick up the butt that we needed and let us know we weren’t just going to go out there and win games easily. I think it was a good thing.”

While good times are being had at the Eels right now, it wasn’t always that way.

Burt knows the pain of finals defeat better than most, having bowed out to the eventual premiers four times in seven finals campaigns in his time at the club.

“In previous years, losing in the finals has hurt a lot. Obviously 2001 really hurt us all, but so did 2005 when we were rolled to nil by the Cowboys. We felt that we were a chance. Then in 2007 we lost to Melbourne. I wasn’t playing, but that one hurt.”

This weekend Parramatta will again have nothing to lose but everything to gain as they take on the Gold Coast Titans for a Preliminary Final spot against arch rivals, the Bulldogs.

Despite the Eels being almost unbackable favourites with TAB Sportsbet ($1.35 for the punters amongst us), Burt is wary of the Titans - a team Parramatta has never beaten.

“That’s a stat that we would like to end. That we haven’t beat them is extra motivation.”
 
“While we have got that little bit of confidence knowing that we knocked off the number one side in the comp, the Titans came third and were only a couple of points off the minor premiership.”

As for whom the Eels have to shut down, Burt nominated four of the Titans’ biggest guns and implored Eels fans to get to the SFS this Friday night for what looms as a cracking match.

“Obviously we have to stop Scott Prince. He’s their general, and then you have Mat Rogers. In the forwards Luke Bailey and Anthony Laffranchi get through a tonne of work and need to be shutdown.”

“Hopefully all the Parra fans get to the SFS and play their part, because the crowd really do lift us and make a difference. I also know if it was up there, the Gold Coast fans would pack the place out supporting them. I would love to see a sea of blue and gold clad Eels fans this Friday night.”

Daring to look ahead, Burt also commented on what a victory in three weeks’ time would mean.

“It would mean everything for me to win one with these guys. Particularly Hindy and Cayless.

“You look at what they have done for the game in New Zealand and Australia and you know they both deserve a grand final victory as they get towards the end of their careers. So to win one for them would be special. We’re mates and have been for a long time, it would be huge.”

There is no doubting the desire and sentiment in that statement. Eels’ fans get excited. It might just be time for the blue and gold army to rise as one.