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.