Journeyman Matthews giving Titans steely resolve
Gold Coast Titans coach Garth Brennan didn't need any convincing about what job NRL journeyman Will Matthews could do for his young squad when he gave him one last shot in Australian rugby league.
Yet it was a conversation with the 29-year-old foundation Titan moments before kick-off against the Canberra Raiders on Sunday night, and a conversation about him at half-time, that reassured him what value the Kyogle-born bushranger-lookalike with the low-profile might have.
Matthews was bound for Widnes in Super League after his legitimate NRL options had dried up by last September, months after dislocating his hip playing for the St George Illawarra Dragons in the pre-season Charity Shield, restricting his season to one Telstra Premiership game and a handful in the NSW Cup.
He decided on an about-turn for family reasons and a conversation with his Brennan, his 2015 NSW Residents coach, changed his future.
Minutes before the Titans went onto the field at Cbus Super Stadium, Brennan went around his team to shake their hand and wish each one well. Matthews looked at him and said how appreciative he was for the opportunity to wear the Titans colours again.
He entered the fray in the 25th minute with the team down 24-6 and played the rest of the game, having an influence on the performance that insiders appreciated far more than most spectators would have noticed. Defensively and offensively, he just showed some much-needed smarts and physicality.
Right on half-time a scrum was fed by Canberra, who had rolled through the middle too effortlessly in the first 20 minutes, and big winger Nick Cotric ran into the "backline".
He was picked up and driven back one-on-one by Matthews and lost the ball. Titans teammates rushed to him back-slap.
"The tackle right on half-time when he jolted the ball free… it was something I was able to use a half-time about 'boys, that's what we need'," Brennan said.
"Will made a massive difference; his impact was enormous.
"I coached him in the NSW Residents in 2015 and got to know what sort of character he is; what sort of person he is. He's a Gold Coast/Northern NSW junior and the club means a lot to him.
"He's been here before and he said to me before the game that 'I'm just lucky to be back here and pull this jumper on again' and he showed he meant it with his performance in the game. I knew how tough he is and how much this place means to him."
Matthews cannot deny it.
He doesn't want to waste his last chance with him turning 30 later this month and on a one-year basic deal.
The first time Matthews wore a Titans jersey was in 2008 as a 20-year-old rookie with the world at his feet. The last time he decked the club's colours they were on the way to the 2011 wooden spoon and he'd required a shoulder reconstruction.
Six seasons as a Dragons brought his NRL record to just 83 games over 10 seasons (65 from the bench), two shoulder reconstructions, dislocated hip, earlier hip surgery and a hamstring injury that kept him out for months.
He always seemed an injury-free run away from becoming a regular first-grader when, in the first game after his best season of 2016 (20 NRL appearances), he was carried off on a stretcher and medicab at ANZ Stadium with the hip dislocation.
"I'm loving my time here at the moment; I'm a bit older and wiser and feel more of a leader in a way," he said.
"When I was at the Titans before (2008-11), I was one of the young kids coming through and I've sort of turned the full circle now and have a different perspective of things and realise how special it is to be part of a team.
"Especially now I'm coming towards the end of my career, I want to experience finals footy. It was a great feeling to start with a win like that. It's been a while since I'd had that sort of feeling on the footy field – from the way we started to the way we finished the game; it was very satisfying.
"I think it showed that, while we're a young team, there's a lot of fight in us and we're going to surprise a lot of teams this year if we stay healthy."
The only Titan from Matthews' first stint still at the club is Ryan James, then a long-haired tearaway three years younger than him, and now the club captain and inspirational figure.
"It's good to have him back on the Coast in Titans colours and so good to have an older head," James said.
"He knows what he's doing on the footy field and with experience comes talk and everyone around him becomes comfortable. It didn't take long for that to show to the other blokes."