The western area is renowned for producing elite rugby league talent and, in a new series, we'll be bringing you the stories of those stars. Every Monday, we'll have tales of western juniors who now play in the NRL or NRLW, their rise to the top, memories of bush footy and what the 2024 season holds. We start with Dubbo's Canterbury Bulldogs co-captain, Matt Burton. Painful, punishing, exhausting. NRL pre-seasons are renowned for making players suffer. It's what Dubbo junior Matt Burton is currently going through with the Canterbury Bulldogs. But for all of the seemingly never-ending fitness tests, the 23-year-old knows there's something special waiting for him at the end of each day. Earlier this year Burton and partner Zoe Warwick, also from Dubbo, welcomed son Noa into the world. "It's been full on, he's four months old now so he has grown up pretty fast," Burton said. "It's good after a tough day at training. He's got a little smile on his face so it makes everything better." The arrival of Noa Cove Burton completed another huge 12 months for the St John's junior. He was given the captaincy at the Bulldogs alongside Reed Mahoney while continuing to try and establish himself as a star playmaker in the NRL. Having already represented NSW and Australia, 2024 is shaping up to be Burton's most important season yet. The Bulldogs are desperate for success and having signed more star names in an effort to climb the ladder, the pressure will be on Burton to guide them to their goal of finals footy. The work has already begun, with pre-season starting last month. "It's been good, it's been tough but the boys have been ripping in," Burton said. "There are a lot of new faces in the room but we are all looking forward to next season." The Bulldogs and Dubbo have quite a connection. Dean Pay won a premiership with the club in 1995 and went on to coach the Bulldogs from 2018-20 while Andrew Ryan played more than 200 matches in blue and white and also won a grand final in 2004. Now trying to make a legacy of his own, Burton looked up to one of those legends while growing up. "Bobcat (Ryan) is a big one, just being from Dubbo and looking up to him while seeing his career," he said. "It's pretty cool to see what he has done. I'm trying to follow in his footsteps." There is no denying his time spent in Dubbo shaped Burton into the player he is now. A multi-sport star from a very early age, Burton eventually focused on league and is capable of playing in the halves or centres, while he even featured on the wing for Dubbo CYMS' first grade side before moving to Sydney. While he may live hours away now, Burton is still connected to his home and got the chance to watch his CYMS triumph over Mudgee in the Peter McDonald Premiership grand final in September. "I watched the final, we were in the break so it was good to sit down and watch the old team get a win," he said. Having developed into one of the region's most promising juniors while at Dubbo, Burton made the move to Penrith after his time in the under 18s and went on to make his NRL debut in 2019. It's been a rapid rise since, with a premiership win, Origin selection and an Australian Kangaroos debut all coming in 2021. He joined the Bulldogs the following year and quickly became one of the most important players for the rebuilding Belmore club. The Panthers are well known for their successful partnership with the Western Rams and now the Bulldogs are starting to do the same. Players like Latrell Fing and Blake Merritt are both in underage squads at the club, something Burton loves to see. "It's great to see young boys down here trying to make it and make something out of it," he said. "I did the same thing coming from the bush and coming down here to play footy, it's pretty special to see some young boys following the same path."