Crichton wants to return Burton to his old best at Dogs

Scott Bailey |

Stephen Crichton (centre) is embracing his new role as Canterbury NRL captain.
Stephen Crichton (centre) is embracing his new role as Canterbury NRL captain.

Stephen Crichton has vowed to try and unleash the Matt Burton of old on Canterbury’s star-studded left edge, as the Bulldogs’ new skipper prepares to start the NRL season at centre.

Crichton captained a side for the first time in his life in Friday night’s 12-6 pre-season loss to Cronulla, playing 20 minutes at left centre at Belmore.

Questions still remain over the make up of the Bulldogs back line for round one, with Blake Taaffe enduring a difficult night at fullback against the Sharks.

But after spending time training at fullback in the pre-season, Crichton now appears most likely to start at centre against Parramatta when the Dogs kick off their campaign on March 9.

On paper, a Canterbury side that has struggled to score points for the past seven seasons now has one of the best edges in the competition.

Canterbury player Matt Burton.
Matt Burton’s form will be key to igniting the Bulldogs’ potentially explosive left edge. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Viliame Kikau, Burton and Crichton won a premiership together at Penrith, while Kangaroos Test star Josh Addo-Carr remains one of the NRL’s quickest wingers.

But the form of Burton will be crucial to translating that potential from paper to grass.

Burton received good news on Saturday, avoiding a charge for a high shot on Cronulla’s Daniel Atkinson and being cleared to play in round one.

The 23-year-old has hardly thrived since moving from Penrith to Canterbury in 2022, prompting calls for him to shift from the halves to centre at the end of last year.

“Burto running the ball is a massive factor,” Crichton said. 

“He’s been a bit quiet the past few seasons, and I’m trying to unleash him, to (help him) play what he sees and play happily. 

“Any NRL player plays at their best when they’re happy on and off the field.

“On the field, off the field, (it’s important) we’re always on the same page. Even if there are errors, it’s about connecting with him quickly.

“He’s leading our left edge as well. He’s been really good.”

Regardless of their winning history at Penrith, Crichton said it was not as simple as he, Burton and Kikau running the same plays on the left at the Bulldogs.

“Everything’s probably changed from the last time I’ve played with Burto and Kiks,” Crichton said. 

“We’ve got a lot of new strengths on the edge, and we’re just trying to do plays to cater to our strengths and be at our best.”

Stephen Crichton (right) makes a tackle against the Sharks.
Crichton (right) hopes to help introduce a heightened work ethic at Belmore. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

Crichton is keen to help bring the Penrith work ethic to Canterbury under former Panthers assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo.

The 23-year-old centre knows that was part of the reason he was named captain on Thursday, despite having never led a team before and being new to Belmore.

“With the experience I’ve had for the past few years at a successful club … I’m teaching the younger boys some lessons I’ve learned,” Crichton said.

“I’m just trying to nail myself and my own mentality leading into games. If I can learn how to lead myself first, I can lead the team.”