‘They rushed him’: Eels defend Matterson fine furore as 90-year title weight looms

Parramatta have defended Ryan Matterson’s decision to accept a three-match ban instead of paying a $4000 fine, which has since coincided with the club needing to defy a 90-year record unless they avenge last year’s grand final loss to Penrith on Thursday.

The Eels’ 0-3 start to the season, along with a dearth of back-rowers, has put the spotlight squarely on Matterson’s return from suspension against the Panthers.

The Eels have lost their opening three games to Melbourne, Cronulla and Manly, all by a margin of four points, and another defeat would mean they will have to defy history to go on and win the competition. Only Newtown’s 1923 side has gone on to win a premiership after losing four games to start a season.

Matterson, who is paid around $600,000 a year, defended his decision to not pay the $4000 fine at the time but later attempted to reverse it. The club argued a one-day timeframe to enter his plea was insufficient, but it was dismissed by the NRL.

Roosters star Brandon Smith joined the likes of Andrew Johns, Aaron Woods and Nathan Hindmarsh in criticising Matterson’s call, telling Triple M on Saturday that “I wouldn’t be able to walk into training knowing I had done that”.

But Eels teammate Dylan Brown questioned the timeframe Matterson was given to make a decision after their grand final loss, which coincided with a public holiday and Parramatta fan day.

“Obviously we make fun of him about it, but at the same time no one knows what he was going through at the time when he made the decision,” Brown said. “I’m sure things would’ve been racing through his mind [after the grand final].

“He would’ve had no idea what was going on. I’m pretty sure they rushed him into making the decision, which I personally don’t agree with but it’s hard to make a decision at the time.

“Whatever the reason was, I’m sure it was valid for him and his family. We support him either way and it’s good to have him back now.”

NRL head of football Graham Annesley said Parramatta were welcome to make a submission for post-grand final charge responses being extended, but said the Matterson matter had followed the same process as any other charge throughout the season.

Captain Clint Gutherson insisted Matterson did not have a point to prove ahead of Thursday’s clash, which is the second of three consecutive games against Manly, Penrith and the Roosters where the Eels opponents are coming off an early season bye.

“He’s back in the team now and he’s just got to come in and do his job,” Gutherson said. “He doesn’t need to do anything special. He’ll make the players around him better.

“Hopefully he starts playing well and we can move on from it. It’s a tough one because it was after the grand final, you don’t really want to be around footy. That’s the way it went and we just moved on with it.”

The 28-year-old’s return could well come on an edge given former Panther J’maine Hopgood’s impressive form at lock for the Eels after the departures of Isaiah Papalii, Marata Niukore and Shaun Lane’s broken jaw.

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