Parramatta Eels coach Brad Arthur has been called out for not coming down hard on suspended back-rower Ryan Matterson over his decision to take a three-game ban over a $4000 fine in the wake of last year's NRL grand final. The Eels have lost their first two games of the season, with injuries and key off-season departures severely limiting them at that position to start the season.
Big things were expected of the Eels after making last year's grand final, but Matterson's absence, combined with an injury to Shaun Lane and the departures of Isaiah Papali’i and Marata Niukore to Wests Tigers and the Warriors respectively, have left Parramatta searching for NRL depth. Losses to the Storm and Sharks in the opening two rounds risk being compounded into an 0-5 start with clashes with the Sea Eagles, Panthers and Roosters still to come.
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While preventing Shane Lane from copping a broken jaw and players moving clubs in the off-season can't be helped, had Matterson simply taken the $4000 fine offered to him for his crusher tackle in the decider, the Eels would have had more firepower to throw at their first two opponents of the season. Instead, it'll be another week before Matterson can rejoin the side, by which time the Eels could be in a serious hole.
Matterson has copped a barrage of criticism for not accepting the fine, with NRL 360's Paul Kent labelling it a 'dud decision' on Tuesday. However some of that criticism has been redirected at higher-ups at Parramatta, including Arthur, for not taking some sense into Matterson before it was too late.
Parramatta made a last-ditch attempt to have the ban converted into a fine, but the appeal was knocked back by the NRL in the days before the 2023 season began. Despite the absence of Matterson having been a major problem for the Eels, co-host Paul Crawley had little sympathy for the club.
“Too bad, so sad,” Crawley said. “Why didn’t the coach say ‘Mate you’re going to pay the fine and that’s the way it is, otherwise you can play reserve grade.’
“He’s put them through a start to the season they didn’t need. It was always going to be a tough start if you looked at their draw and who they lost, they needed him on the field.”
Ryan Matterson's ban decision leaves Eels in the NRL lurch
Kent continued, saying there was almost zero chance of another NRL player making a similar decision to that of Matterson. He argued a precedent had been set, with players now having a clear example of the risks in opting against paying a fine.
“I honestly don’t believe there would be another NRL player, maybe one or two, who would have taken the suspension ahead of the fine,” Kent said. “The fact we’re talking about it shows how unusual that was, most people were staggered by it and I think even Ryan Matterson once he got through the emotion of it all would have sat down and thought ‘what have I done’.”
Fellow commentator and former NRL player Braith Anasta was equally bemused. He argued the fine was a 'small price to pay' when compared to getting wins on the board.
The Eels and State of Origin star had originally accepted a three-week sanction after declaring the fine he could have otherwise accepted as being too 'hefty'. The 28-year-old had a change of heart in November though, with the club subsequently exploring their options to get him back on the field without missing any time.
Those efforts came to nought however, when it was revealed judiciary chairman Geoff Bellew had determined that there was no avenue to change the decision. Parramatta are believed to have subsequently made applications to the NRL hierarchy to have the decision overturned, but were again told there was no mechanism available for the change.
The issue brings into question the process around players entering pleas at the end of the season. Ordinarily, players are given until the Monday or Tuesday after a game to enter a plea ahead of the next round.
The Eels had asked for an extension after Matterson's charge, given it was handed down on the same day as a fan event and in the wake of their grand final defeat. Matterson's next match was at least five months away, having missed out on Australia's World Cup squad, but an extension of only a few hours was offered.
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