Leading Panthers players say they hold no grudges towards Trent Barrett ahead of their clash with Canterbury on Saturday despite the clubs locking horns over Matt Burton's immediate future.
With some sections of the media going as far as labelling the battle at Bankwest Stadium the "Matty Burton Cup" this weekend, Panthers co-captains Nathan Cleary and Isaah Yeo had nothing but praise for Barrett ahead of the game.
The 43-year-old spent 12 months as a Panthers assistant coach under Ivan Cleary last season before landing the leading Bulldogs gig this year.
He was regarded as instrumental in helping turn the Panthers' once-struggling attack around last season on their way to the 2020 Telstra Premiership grand final.
However, tensions began to simmer once Barrett was confirmed as Bulldogs coach, with the Belmore club reportedly eyeing off some of Penrith's best rising talent.
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Among those targeted included outside backs Stephen Crichton, Charlie Staines and prop Spencer Leniu, who have all since been retained, plus playmaker Matt Burton.
The Panthers did enough to fend off Canterbury's pursuit for the first trio but ultimately the Bulldogs got their man in Burton from 2022.
Despite advances from the Bulldogs and Burton's manager David Riolo to release the Dubbo junior early, the Panthers have stood firm and are not willing to hand him over to their rivals so easily.
"I think it's more the board [doing the talking] with all the Burto stuff," Yeo said on Tuesday.
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"As players, it's no grudge match whatsoever. Everyone respects him [Barrett] in the building and had a really good relationship with him.
"He's a really good bloke, I can't rap him enough. He helped me a lot last year."
While Barrett and the Bulldogs hold out a glimmer of hope Burton will be in blue and white this season, Yeo remained certain it was unlikely.
With Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai every chance of featuring in this year's State of Origin series, the only other recognised playmakers in the club's top 30 squad are Burton and utility Tyrone May.
"He's going to be an important part of our team at some point this year," Yeo said of Burton.
"I'm happy he's contracted with us for another 12 months and then after that, he gets a great opportunity over there.
"There's a lot of noise surrounding it but he's handled it really well. You wouldn't be able to tell at training [he's bothered], he's putting his best foot forward there and he played well on the weekend. That's all you can ask."
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary said similar when speaking about the matter just metres away from where Burton was part of the squad's training session on Tuesday in the lead-up to the game.
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"He's never kicked stones and comes in with a good attitude every day," Cleary said.
"He's been a bit hard done by [with the attention] in some aspect but it's just something you've got to deal with.
"It's constantly being brought up but [Jake] Averillo is a good player so it's probably hard done by for him as well.
"I feel sorry for [Averillo], he's a really good player and we're going to have to be on our game defending him this weekend. It's just a situation I'm happy I'm not in."
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Barrett was replaced by Andrew Webster at the club this season with Cleary adding the former Wests Tigers assistant had built on last year's success.
"I think we've developed in different aspects this pre-season," Cleary said.
"It's still the same structures but Webby has brought in a few different things that I've really enjoyed.
"Baz probably does know us better than anyone else but the way footy is these days everyone watches video and the games so teams know what we're doing anyway."
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