Arthur felt the youngster had to make at least one appearance for the third-tier team, so when two of their scheduled matches were washed out, Matterson’s purgatory continued.
“That was the longest three weeks of my life,” Matterson said. “I was training first grade, playing Ron Massey. It was a hard one to swallow.
“When I was here, I definitely thought this was the club I was going to debut at. Things didn’t go to plan. I genuinely thought my career would be over.”
Matterson’s career wasn’t over, but his stay at Parramatta was. The Roosters were prepared to sign the Junior Kangaroo as a half, although the tri-colours soon came around to Arthur’s way of thinking. Trent Robinson sold the switch by promising to spend the entire off-season transitioning him into the new role.
The results speak for themselves. Matterson won a premiership at Bondi Junction and last year was on the cusp of a State of Origin call-up after a breakout season with Wests Tigers.
When the 25-year-old fell out with another coach, Michael Maguire, there was no shortage of clubs lining up to sign him. And yet he ended up back at Parramatta under Arthur.
The pair had bumped into each other briefly just once since his departure, when they crossed paths in a crowded airport before a nines tournament.
Yet when Matterson became available, Arthur cut short an off-season holiday to ensure the prodigal son returned.
“He’d just got back from Bali. He came straight from the airport to meet me,” Matterson said.
“I have so much respect for him for doing that. He didn’t have to do that, he could have been tired, he could have gone home.
“He wanted to meet me. We all hung out, me, my manager and Brad. The rest is history. It’s awesome. Now even outside of football, I’m calling Brad up and we’re having chats. It’s blossomed into a good relationship.”
“As soon as I got back, I wanted to meet with him straight away because he had some other interest,” Arthur recalled.
Was there air that needed to be cleared?
“Nah, that’s footy,” Arthur said. “There wasn’t anything personal about it. I had an opinion about where he was going to play and he had an opinion.”
Having hugged it out, it has worked out well for both parties. Matterson has belatedly found a home at Parramatta.
“He is part of our leadership group, the boys hold him in high regard,” Arthur said. “He’s not afraid to speak his opinion, but everything he says he’s going to do, he does. That’s great, that’s what a leader is.”
Like father, like son
Ryan Matterson pulls a crumpled blue note out of his wallet, unfolds it and reads the contents.
“The harder you run, the more hesitant the defence.
Use your shoulder. Physical defence. Drive in hard.
Be confident. Purpose in everything you do. Aggression. Back yourself. Make each play count.”
The message was written by Matterson’s father Paul, who made three first-grade appearances for the Roosters in the 1980s. The scrap of paper was handed to Matterson before his first SG Ball appearance and he hasn’t run onto a football field since without reading those words first.
“It’s cliched stuff but it’s more than just the words written on the paper,” Matterson said.
“It goes back to when he’s done it and now he wants to try to help me go as far as I can in my career. I get emotional when I see that. I read it before every game.”
The next time he pulls it out is for Saturday’s clash against Melbourne. If the Eels are to pull off an upset, Matterson and his fellow forwards will need to win the collisions.
Self-preservation won’t be on Matterson’s mind, despite suffering a series of concussions in recent seasons. He was sidelined for three weeks after coming off second-best to Russell Packer in his first clash with former club Wests Tigers in round 11. As far as head knocks go, there have been worse; Matterson spent months on the sidelines after a series of concussions at the Roosters, including one from a “falcon”.
There were days Matterson would be bedridden for up to 16 hours a time. Dizziness and sensitivity to light and noise were other post-concussion symptoms. Thankfully, he acknowledged them and didn’t attempt to return to the field until they had passed.
“It is confusing and can be a very dark time,” he said. “Obviously a massive part of it is the player and the individual knowing something isn’t right and speaking up about it.
“A lot of people will push it aside and hope it gets better, but that’s the most dangerous part about it. You have to be honest, and if you feel like you’re not right, you have to express that.”
Faith and self-belief
There is a former maths teacher at St Paul’s Catholic College in Greystanes with egg all over his face.
The teacher didn’t think a young Matterson had a future in football and told him so. The advice didn’t dissuade him. Instead it made him stronger and sparked an interest in mindfulness and the mental side of elite performance. It’s why he’s taking on a psychology degree.
“It comes hand-in-hand with my faith, the person who I am,” said Matterson, who was born a Catholic but became a practicing Christian only after being reintroduced to his faith by Josh Aloiai when both were at the Eels.
“I do think about others, I think about circumstances and the situations I’m in. I think about being present,” he said.
Which is why he and Arthur resolved their differences.
“Obviously between then and now, as individuals we have both grown,” Matterson said. “We both understood where we went wrong. I don’t hold any grudges and neither does he.
“I feel that was a massive learning curve and he’s become a better coach and I’ve become a better player.
“Now we have a better relationship. I feel like when you overcome adversity in a relationship or anything in life, you come out of that stronger and become better.
“I feel my relationship with Brad is a lot better and stronger. I couldn’t speak any more highly of him.
“BA said I will always have a spot on his coaching staff. I’ll hold him to that.”
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Adrian Proszenko is the Chief Rugby League Reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald.