Rugby league, you magnificent little beauty.
The NRL’s battle of the west was not the scene you’d expect to find one of the most tender acts of the season — but that’s what Eels star Ryan Matterson provided on Friday night.
Among the flying spittle and bone-jarring collisions of the Panthers’ demolition job on western Sydney — and top four — rivals Parramatta, Matterson showed why fans keep coming back night after night to the greatest game of all.
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The former Tigers star provided a contender for best moment of the season when he showed pure class in caring for Panthers star Api Koroisau when the Penrith rake suffered a head injury in the second half.
Koroisau appeared to take a hip bone to the head as he dashed in to tackle Eels winger Blake Ferguson — a tackle that saw the Eels handed a penalty for holding on too long.
But, as Eels playmaker Mitchell Moses kicked to touch and the game progressed, Koroisau stayed hunched over on the turf, unable to get to his feet on wobbly legs.
Matterson, who was standing nearby, appeared to be the only person to see Koroisau was in a bad way.
As the former Manly No. 9 tried to get back to his feet and stumbled, Matterson acted quickly to wrap him up in a bear hug to keep him stable.
When Koroisau still tried to re-join the Panthers’ defensive line, Matterson wrapped him up again and waved to the Penrith bench for immediate medical attention.
A trainer was quickly on the spot. He took just a few seconds of looking at Koroisau to know the star rake needed to come from the field immediately.
Koroisau was taken for a HIA test in the 60th minute and did not return.
“Api Koroisau is in huge trouble here,” Fox League commentator Michael Ennis said.
Commentator Andrew Voss was blown away by the classy gesture.
“Matterson knows all about concussions and he’s helping Api there, the keep him on his feet,” he said.
“And this is something we highlighted before, this is a huge game. Everything at stake, and there’s the sportsmanship in the great game of rugby league right there.
“That’s some moment, Matterson coming to the aid of Api Koroisau.”
The NRL Physio was also impressed.
“Fantastic from Ryan Matterson, showing care for an opposition player (Koroisau) who was clearly affected by a blow to the head,” he posted on Twitter.
“Such a positive gesture for player safety from a guy who has a complex history with concussion himself. Hope Koroisau is OK.”
It was enough for even disgruntled Tigers fans — still filthy at the circumstances of Matterson walking out on the club to join Parramatta — to find some affection for the star forward. Almost.
It comes just two weeks after the Wests Tigers also showed the Panthers some love with another display of sportsmanship when Penrith forward Isaah Yeo also looked on the verge of collapsing following a head knock.
Eight minutes into the second half of the Panthers’ 30-6 win, Penrith back-rower Yeo reeled out of a tackle when his head made nasty contact with the shoulder of Tigers forward Matt Eisenhuth.
Yeo hit the ground immediately and referee Ben Cummins, noticing he was in a bad way, stopped play after the tackle was completed by a couple of his teammates.
Yeo tried to stand up but stumbled backwards, looking like he might hit the deck again. Fortunately, players from both sides rushed in to help the big man.
Eisenhuth and Tigers centre Moses Mbye were two of the quickest to react, running towards Yeo to grab him and hold him up. Tigers bench forward Elijah Taylor was another who helped out, as well as Penrith second-rower Liam Martin.
Even Cummins made a move to support the wounded Panther as the whistleblower looked ready to go above and beyond the call of duty.
Rugby league — the greatest game of all.