Broncos hero you've never heard of
By the time Ben Barba enters the bowels of Suncorp Stadium at around 5.30pm on Friday evening and for the first time in his career turns left to enter the home dressing sheds rather than right, Matt Middleton will have been meticulously planning Barba's arrival since 2pm.
Not just Barba's arrival, mind you, but that of both the Broncos Holden Cup and NRL squads, making sure that everything is in readiness for their first home game of the season.
There is something extra significant, however, in regards to Barba's arrival, as 'Middo' will have assigned him his permanent locker that the star recruit will call home for the entirety of his career at the Broncos.
"I'll probably put him somewhere and when he gets there I'll say, 'Hey Ben, what do you think of this?'," 'Middo' tells NRL.com in the confines of his gear room, surrounded by NRL, NYC and Auckland Nines jerseys, polo shirts, shorts and socks for which he is responsible.
"I'll give the new guys a choice of where they want to sit but if they say, 'I want to sit there,' I'll say, 'You can't sit there, that's Sam Thaiday's locker.'"
You may not be familiar with the name Matt Middleton but he has been an integral part of the fabric of the Broncos for more than 20 years. At the club's season launch in February, Middo was awarded life membership of the club and the ensuing round of applause was greater than any other received during the course of the night.
Within the walls of the Broncos' base at Red Hill, Middo is a legend. Described during the past 20 years by iconic talent scout Cyril Connell as the best recruit he ever brought to the Broncos and by Darren Lockyer as the most important person at the Broncos that no one had heard of, Middo is the gear steward, Mr Fix-It and comic entertainment all rolled into one fiercely loyal package.
"Wayne [Bennett] was really the bloke that brought him in here along with Cyril and to see the boy that came in here compared to what we've got now, it's just been inspirational," says Bronco football manager Andrew Gee, Middo's boss and one of the Broncos first introduced to Middo in 1994.
"He wasn't around all the time but he was brought to our group as our offsider and all the players just instantly fell in love with him. As new players come to the club they all grow attached to him. He's the Mr Fix-It around the joint and I think you could tell the other night by the high regard that 'Locky' holds him in as to what he means to the club.
"He just loves the club. He's prepared to do anything for it, prepared to do anything for anyone to make their job a little bit easier, that's what I like. He never looks for any credit and he obviously wakes up every day and can't wait to get in here. He's a great employee to have."
But ask Middo, and this isn't a job. It's being part of one of the largest sporting organisations in the country and developing life-long friendships with players with whom he'd only ever seen on TV before.
While Lockyer is his undeniable favourite all-time Bronco, Gee reveals that John Plath and Peter Ryan were other players also to have a special place in his heart but Middo is simply thrilled to be able to spend every work day helping them to achieve their goals.
"I wasn't a huge fan of [the Broncos] but when I first started my love of the players completely changed," Middo says. When I first met the players I thought, They're just normal people and they're good blokes. When I first started I was a bit quiet and a bit naive but over the years it got stronger and stronger.
"They mean everything to me. They're more than friends, they're almost like family. They're really close mates... I've been over to some of these players' houses as a guest, it's amazing. When Locky first started I was here and I got to see him finish his whole career; that was amazing.
"He's mentioned me so many times in speeches, it's amazing, a buzz. I just can't believe that I work at a place, a major sporting organisation and the job I do, being in charge of the gear, that's a pretty big thing I think."
And when Barba and his teammates depart Suncorp Stadium to head home to tend to injuries and try to relax after another pulsating derby against the Cowboys, Middo will make his way back to Red Hill to wash, dry and pack away as many as 50 jerseys, eventually arriving back at his brother Luke's house in the early hours of Saturday morning.
It's the type of selfless dedication that footy clubs – whether amateur or professional – are built upon, and why the name Matthew Middleton will always be held in the same level of regard at the Broncos normally reserved for the very greatest players our game has seen.