When the Eels finally confirmed 25 year old Ryan Matterson’s signature in early November, there were sighs of relief that the Eels had finally filled the glaring roster hole created by the departure of Manu Ma’u.
Manu had been a fearsome force (literally) on Parramatta’s right edge since 2014, and Matterson’s impressive form on that side of the field stamped him as the perfect replacement.
But just how applicable is it to use the term “replacement”?
For a team like Parra, looking to take the next step from competitive finalists to genuine contenders, any signature had to be more than a roster replacement. The player had to offer more, not just potentially, but via a track record.
How does Matterson measure up?
Towards the back half of the 2015 season, a talented and ambitious Eels junior was at the crossroads. His career was floundering before it had even begun, and as Matterson will now freely attest, the problem was staring back at him in the mirror.
The previous 12 months had seen him captain the Eels NYC team, as well as earn an under 20s Blues Origin jersey and Junior Kangaroos representation. On the back of this he’d secured a 3 year senior contract and looked to be on track for an NRL career with Parra.
But in his first year in the full time squad, the tall five-eighth completely lost form, lost confidence and arguably lost desire. Only a small percentage of footballers graduate from age teams to first grade careers, and Matterson’s performances at NSW Cup level left many thinking that he could be yet another to fall by the wayside.
With an offer on the table from the Roosters, the struggling Matterson departed the Eels with minimal angst from staff or supporters. The wisdom of the move was vindicated by his NRL debut in Round 8 of the 2016 season. City Origin representation two games later was probably unearned, but Matto took full advantage with a strong performance.
Across his three seasons with the Tri-colours, Matterson registered 60 NRL appearances and picked up a premiership ring for good measure. In hindsight, it’s fair and logical to conclude that such opportunities would not have come his way had he remained at the Eels.
Matto’s shift to the Tigers in 2019 would prove to be successful, yet short-lived. Used primarily as an edge forward, his performances for Wests earned him inclusion in the NSW squad as 18th man. But at the end of the season, Matterson was looking for an out.
Like fellow Eels junior Mitch Moses before him, Matto’s departure from Tigerland has generated plate-loads of heavily seasoned opinions from their supporters. It’s understandable when a contracted player seems to force a release, but Matterson remained one of the Tigers’ best performers across the rounds, despite any dissatisfaction he may have had with the club.
More Than A Replacement
Manu Ma’u was always going to be a hard act to follow. Besides any theories about his intimidation factor, Munz was a reliable defender and a strong running forward with a step and an offload. In 2019 he tallied 700 tackles at 90.4% efficiency, and averaged 122 running metres per game.
By way of comparison, Ryan Matterson compiled 875 tackles at an impressive 91.4% efficiency, along with 3149 running metres at an average of 131.2 metres per game. Throw in 1193 post contact metres, and it’s unfair to suggest that he’s merely filling a gap.
Further examination of these numbers emphasises the strength of his 2019 performances. Matto’s running metres placed him 13th overall for NRL forwards, and his post contact metres ranked him 12th across all players, even placing above Maika Sivo. That tackle count put him in 17th position, but take out dummy halves and he’s in the top ten defenders.
To add a further point of comparison, Shaun Lane clocked up 2747 running metres, with 1002 post contact metres. He made 693 tackles at 88.4% efficiency. Indeed, the only Eels forward to tackle at better than Matterson’s 91.4% efficiency was David Gower who came off the bench in each of his 16 appearances.
With stats that better players in the Eels 2019 pack, my only confusion is whether to classify Matterson as an impact player or a workhorse. Conclusion? If you’ve got a player who can power though the line, set up outside men like a five-eighth, yet still feature on the top tackler lists, you’ve got the best of both worlds!
Analysing Early Training Form
Four years ago the Eels said goodbye to a 194cm tall rookie half. Fast forward to the 2020 season and the same player has returned as a 107kg Origin squad backrower with a premiership ring on his finger and leadership skills in his kitbag.
It’s been enlightening to watch his initial weeks back at the Eels. In his first week of preseason training, Matterson gathered the young players around him prior to a drill and, as the most senior player in the group, delivered his own instructions about what was expected.
Since that point, he’s continued to impress on the training paddock, demonstrating professionalism in conditioning and skills work, and composure and leadership in opposed drills. Furthermore, Matto has one of the biggest frames in the Eels squad – something that’s not lost on anyone who sees him up close. It’s early days, but I’ve already witnessed Matterson putting that frame to good use running great lines off Mitch Moses.
So to the question at hand – Would I classify Matterson as an elite workhorse or an impact forward?
If he produces the type of form that takes the Eels to the next level, I could care less about labels.
Calling him Matto will do just fine.
What an interesting and encouraging post sixties, nice to have such a fill in post to fill in the weeks between training and the players return. Dare I suggest a combo term to describe Matto? An impacting workhorse! My one concern though is that he could be on a hiding to nothing owing to expectations of & on him, given he is going to fill the angry eye man’s spot he has a lot of extra weight placed on him, the tigers supporters would be looking to him to fail, and laugh at the eels for signing him owing to… Read more »
Official weights and actual weights don’t always match Colin. I’ve only used the official measure in this, and I agree, he looks bigger.
I don’t have a concern with Matto. He not only brings his own standard of footy with him, but he’s also surrounded by quality players in this Eels team.
Mate, I don’t disagree with any of what you have said, I for one am more than happy to see him back at the eels and he’s a few years older and wiser to boot, the ideal replacement for Manu, and we really lose nothing with him in that spot, in fact I believe that with him and Shaune Lane packing together we have two 80 minute players in key positions. The quality of next years team has taken two big steps forward with him and RCG and I am a fan of both of them. Having watched him a… Read more »
Colin, i don’t think you can ever have too many players capable of leadership. There will always be young players to mentor.
If you can email me closer to that date I will try to find out times.
Colin I hope everything goes all right for you at the doctors. I do not envy you having those needles. Will require some of that inner strength of yours.
On a more positive note in line with Sixties comments about Matto. I have it on good authority that MM is really looking for to the coming season with Matterson outside him.
Thanks John, not exactly looking forward to the injections myself, but the surgeon wants me to have them to see if they work or not, the last time I had one it helped for a week at most, the bloke who is doing it is a specialist in this area. If it does not give me any real lasting results, I would say the surgeon will reluctantly fuse the two crook levels. I would think that MM having Matto outside him will really bring out the best in him and he should go to another level as it will take… Read more »
Once again sixties your insights are amazing, thanks again mate. On the back of this can’t wait to see him run out for us
Cheers Dazboy. Really interested to see the right side attack unfold.
Great insight sixties. I am almost salivating at the thought of Matto playing for us in 2020 and beyond. For me he can be both at times; a player who does the leadership type role and also someone who can pull off an incisive run or off load or both. I really like this player and to be honest was a little concerned when we were looking at him to come back but as long as BA is happy then so am i. Matto can be a future leader of the club imo. No doubt about it. I just hope… Read more »
As you know Milo, he’s come a long way since 2015. It’s a big signing in my opinion.
Milo this Eels pack has a lot of minutes in it and even more so now with the inclusion of Matterson and RCG.
I believe that this gives BA a great opportunity to assist Mahoney with a serious backup. I think that Ray Stone would be a contender for this role
Don’t discount Rhys Davies getting a shot. He’s having a massive preseason.
Yes mate have more mins in these boys this season. It is an improvement imo. Stone or Davies will be good too. Stone can be backup backrower too i guess. I am keen on Kaufusi pushing his way into the 17. For me he could be v v good.
Also if RCG can get to his 2017 form then we will be even better.
I honestly believe that big Oggy is ready to become a regular NRL player. Once he gets that opportunity again in 2020, he’ll stay.
At the risk of repeating myself I recently watched the game against the Dragons at Bankwest and among some others he had a great game. Oregon made a few errors but overall it is one of his better games in the NRL
He’s up to it John.
Tks sixties, good sketch of a player.The aspect I like most about Matterson and RCG is we will be more mobile in both attack and defence, and no-one gets picked at Origin level if suspect at effort on effort attitude. In the 4 or so games we got lapped last year, we got run ragged thru the middle(except Storm final, it was all over the park in first half).Up tempo play left blokes on the ground and gaps behind the ruck. I reckon we”ll improve.
BDon, they really emphasised that communication in the tackle – peeling off the tackled player etc – at training in the back half of the season. I agree that we have secured two players who will also help.
Another excellent summary . Having two big edge runners with height Good hands and big engines Is massive . The fact he a high quality defender will
Ensure we compete longer .
Just need to Sivo home mate , so surprised Management hasn’t flown over someone to get this resolved ASAP .
I’d be surprised if someone from the club hasn’t. Player welfare is something that’s done very well.
Report in the above link says that Mark O’Neil and another welfare staffer went over on New years day.
Good work Col.
I watched a Fox vid with Fatty, A Johns and JT discussing the toughest guys they played against, LSS , Fatty said David Boyle, AJ said Tallis and JT said Manu Mau would haunt him in his dreams.Every time Mau would hunt him smash him in tackles and when Mau ran he headed right for him , JT was scared of him as many probably were, that, we lose and cannot replace.Matto is a different player , more skillful, bigger probably faster so all good but we will miss Manu Mau and the death stare.
Nobody will every replace what Manu Ma’u brought to the club. His level of tough was insane. He was that unique combination of intimidating and skilful. As you said, Matto won’t be Manu, he will be Matto, with his skill set which will be something new, and not a replacement.
Manu took 2 years to bring his game to NRL standard, but even in those learning years, he and Nathan Peats set the bar in competitive attitude in the middle. I don’t reckon his ‘use by’ date was up, he was performing at a good level. One aspect where Matterson may excel is the 1%ers, small things that can go unnoticed but make a difference. His Roosters and Origin squad grounding can only mean good habits.
I agree about Manu, and when I spoke to him about it just before the end of the season, he said that the opportunity for his family was something he had to take. We chatted about his journey, and I consider myself privileged to have had that conversation.