The Parramatta Eels will be without Ryan Matterson to begin the upcoming NRL season, after the backrower's three-match ban for a crusher tackle was upheld after an appeal to the chairman of the judiciary. Matterson copped the suspension after turning down a $4000 fine a crusher tackle executed during the 2022 grand final.
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 on Tuesday, 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.
Parramatta are of the opinion that had Matterson been given more time to think about his decision, he would likely have taken the fine.
“If you do something wrong at work. They don’t take money off you. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m playing rugby league," Matterson said in the days after the incident. “It’s just getting quicker and quicker and people are getting stronger and stronger — and the game keeps changing rules.
“There wasn’t much in it... It didn’t make sense to me. At the time I thought it was definitely a penalty, but I didn’t think it would go much further than that."
Eels to start season without Matterson as NRL furore rages on
Matterson's absence will leave the Eels short on back-row depth. Isaiah Papali'i headlined a list of players to exit the club over the off-season, with Marata Niukore and Oregon Kaufusi also gone from the pack.
Recruit J'maine Hopgood is likely to start at lock with Matterson out, while Jack Murchie and Bryce Cartwright are options to start on the right edge with Shaun Lane on the left.
The NRL season could get off to a late start anyway, with tension between the league and players at an all-time high as negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement at a standstill. Players have threatened to strike if certain demands are not met, chiefly the establishment of a medical and retirement hardship fund, as well as establishing a CBA for NRLW players.
League Central announced on the Friday before Christmas the salary cap would be increased from $9.6 million to a record-high $12.1 million for the 2023 season. But Rugby League Players Association (RLPA) chair Deidre Anderson says players are potentially endangering themselves by agreeing to new deals while no CBA is in place.
Anderson also hit back at Australian Rugby League Commission chair Peter V'landys for suggesting RLPA chief executive Clint Newton was "scaremongering" after he flagged concerns about the NRL's confirmation of new salary-cap figures with players and clubs. The announcement - which also included a 153 per cent rise in the value of the NRLW salary cap to $884,000 - was given short shrift by the RLPA, which said it was yet to receive a CBA framework from League Central.
The previous agreement lapsed at the start of the NRL's contractual year on November 1 and the game is operating under the old CBA in the interim.
Click here to sign up to our newsletter for all the latest and breaking stories from Australia and around the world.