The Parramatta Eels have reached a critical point in their roster management. In the eyes of many supporters, an upcoming retention decision will be making a bigger statement than the decisions made in late 2021.
It involves the man who owns no shirts – Ryan Matterson.
Matto is in rare form.
In 2022, coming off the bench, the utility forward has produced his best footy in an Eels Jersey.
Matto’s numbers are simply outstanding. His running metres off the bench come in at an impressive 160 metres per game. Most of this has been the hard yards as a middle forward, though his versatility has also seen him used on the edge by coach, Brad Arthur.
These metres aren’t trundling hit-ups. In his eight games this season, Mr Biceps has accumulated 478 post contact metres, which is just on 60 metres per game. Additionally, his 16 offloads places him in the top 10 in the NRL despite not playing all games and despite starting off the bench.
His efforts aren’t limited to carrying the ball. Defensively, he’s been more than reliable, returning a tackle efficiency of 93.2%.
Statistically, it’s been a brilliant start to the season, but the eye test is even more telling.
During a period in which the Eels bench has missed the attacking impact of Marata Niukore, Ryan Matterson has filled the breach, and done so with a difference.
Whilst Niukore is a lethal mix of power and intimidation, Matterson has proved difficult for defences to bring down through the middle, and continually threatens to find an offload. When switched to an edge, he’s run good lines and rediscovered his step.
Over the last six weeks or so, Matterson has been close to the best on field, whether it be on a winning or losing Eels team. His consistency hasn’t been dependent on those around him.
We saw a window to this form in Matto’s performance as a middle forward off the bench in last season’s final against the Panthers. He was a revelation as a middle forward and produced his best game of that season in the Eels brave loss.
It’s obvious that the Eels junior has regained the confidence apparently lost during a sequence of nasty head knocks.
This has placed the Eels in an unexpected position.
The 2021 version of Ryan Matterson was a player at the crossroads. His immediate future seemed clouded. Concussion issues had restricted him to just 17 appearances and it wasn’t his first dance with head knocks.
To be honest, many supporters (myself included) wouldn’t have been surprised had the 27 year old decided to retire. The last thing expected, or even demanded by fans, was for Parra to extend him on either similar or upgraded coin.
Circumstances have now changed.
The 194cm, 107kg forward is proving to be one of the Eels most valuable players on literally a weekly basis.
And the Eels landscape has also changed. Fellow top 17 forwards Isaiah Papali’i, Marata Niukore, Oregon Kaufusi, and Ray Stone are all departing. Furthermore, Nathan Brown has struggled to return to his best following last year’s post season operations.
Suddenly, Ryan Matterson has become a valuable commodity, and reportedly attracting offers from rival clubs, including the Dolphins.
It was recently revealed that the Eels had opened up negotiations to retain Matto, but the club has a track record of not offering a contract which exceeds what they consider a player to be worth.
This strategy has kept the club cap compliant, and they’ve had success with BA and his coaching staff being able to develop and get good returns from “bargain” recruits or local products.
Simultaneously, the club has aimed to lock in key individuals such as Junior, RCG and Gutho on market competitive contracts. A new challenge will soon emerge as the Eels match-winning halves combination of Mitch Moses and Dylan Brown will be open to offers come November.
How will this impact negotiations with Matterson?
I’m concerned that it will overshadow or diminish the importance of his retention.
I welcome having a club that doesn’t leak details of contract talks. We can assume that negotiations are underway but their progress won’t be revealed from within.
That said, given the upcoming departures and the form of Matterson, a competitive offer must be tabled.
The alternative would be for the Eels to go into the market place to secure a replacement player, a move that might deliver an unexpected gem (see Papali’i) or an individual who is incapable of reaching Matto’s standard.
A reason for predicting such polar opposite results is the recruitment trend of seeking value for the dollar. The cost of retentions and upgrades has unquestionably resulted in the Eels failing to secure high profile targets over the last three seasons.
There’s a great quote from Wayne Bennett that is something like “if you start listening to the fans, you’ll be sitting with them.” It’s a Gibsonesque observation that’s basically stating that the business of football needs to be left to the professionals.
In much the same way, we have to trust the professionals at the Eels.
However, all of the current evidence points towards the high value of Ryan Matterson, and that’s in a forward pack not yet impacted by departures. Should he be added to the list of forwards who won’t be wearing the Blue and Gold next year, especially if there are no significant additions, the Eels will surely pay a price.
For a club that has made such great strides in recent seasons, that would be a disappointing outcome.