EXCLUSIVE: BENNETT’S SECRET TALKS WITH EELS STAR
Parramatta are facing a battle to keep Ryan Matterson with Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett launching a $1.5 million poaching raid on the Eels back-rower.
News Corp can reveal Bennett has held talks with Matterson’s management as the super coach eyes off the versatile Eels utility to be a starting member of the Dolphins pack for their entry to the NRL next season.
The Eels have been rocked by a forward exodus with Isaiah Papali’i (Tigers), Marata Niukore (Warriors), Oregon Kaufusi (Cronulla), Reed Mahoney (Bulldogs) joining rival clubs next season and Matterson could also hit the exits.
The Eels have yet to table a formal offer for Matterson, who has interest from five NRL clubs, but are ready to open talks with the 27-year-old in a bid to keep him in the blue and gold in 2023.
The Dolphins, however, are a genuine threat, with Bennett open to a three-year deal worth around $500,000 a season to make Matterson a foundation player at the NRL’s 17th team.
Matterson was formally put up for sale on Tuesday - his management emailed Parramatta’s 16 NRL rivals offering his services - and the Dolphins have wasted no time bidding for the Eels forward’s services.
Matterson’s manager Chris Orr said the veteran of 127 NRL games has not ruled out staying at Parramatta but confirmed his interest in a possible career move to the Dolphins.
“Ryan is in great form and with that you would expect interest coming his way,” said Orr of PSM.
“The Dolphins are a new player in the NRL market and with Wayne Bennett and Terry Reader (Dolphins CEO) leading the way I am sure they will be successful.
“Ryan has a great group of players around him and a very good coach at the Eels in Brad Arthur.
“We are certainly considering extending his stay in the blue and gold and we will hold talks with Mark O’Neill (Eels football manager) in coming days to see what that looks like.”
While the Dolphins have been pilloried for failing to land a marquee signing thus far, they have secured premiership-winning pedigree in the forwards with the signing of Storm trio Kenny and Jesse Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi.
The Redcliffe-based operation has also snared Souths grand-final prop Mark Nicholls, while Eels ironman Ray Stone, currently sidelined with an ACL injury, has inked a deal with the Dolphins.
Now Matterson could be the second Parramatta player to buy into Bennett’s vision for the Dolphins.
The Dolphins view Matterson as a possible starting No.13. The former NSW City Origin forward has a relationship with Dolphins recruitment chief Peter O’Sullivan, who first signed Matterson to the Roosters in 2016.
Matterson has come off the bench for Parramatta over the past month and has enjoyed stints in the midfield rather than the edges.
“I’m more involved,” he said recently.
“I get my hands on the ball a lot more and I get to choose whether to run or pass.
“Back row at the moment people are running lines and you’re a bit more of a crash player. But I enjoy being a ball-player.”