Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

League: Ben Matulino attracts Sydney interest

Ben Matulino's future is under a cloud at the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images
Ben Matulino's future is under a cloud at the Warriors. Photo / Getty Images

If the Warriors decide to release Ben Matulino, there are at least four Sydney clubs who would pick him up almost immediately.

That's the best measure of his status in the NRL. Despite all the talk over the past week, Matulino remains in demand.

His reputation may have taken a hit - with a strangely off-colour season - but his pedigree is unquestioned as a mobile, experienced, ball-playing prop. He's also durable, averaging more than 23 matches a season since 2010.

It's unlikely the Warriors will dispense with his services, although the final decision will rest with new coach Stephen Kearney.

It's a delicate one. Kearney needs to decide if he can get the best out of the 27-year-old, or if the club would be better investing in another option.

It's almost certain he will be at the club next year, but Matulino is on notice to earn a contract extension beyond 2017.

Matulino never really got going this season. He mixed sweet and sour in the early rounds before being dumped from first grade for his involvement in the Gang of Six sleeping pills/energy drinks affair. He improved through their mid-year run before fading again in the last month.

"Some years don't go as good as a player wants them to," said Warriors staffer Tony Iro, who has had a long association with Matulino. "He's been reasonably consistent over a long time. Maybe he's been trying too hard. Maybe he's lost some confidence."

A measure of his confidence has been his offloading game. He managed just two offloads in the last 10 games of the season, both occurring in the final-round loss to the Eels. He had 20 in the corresponding period in 2015 and 16 in 2014.

"Something has affected him this year and it is up to Stephen to work that out," said former Kiwis coach Frank Endacott. "He could be as good as any prop or second-rower in the world but something hasn't been right there this year."

There is a view that he was playing too light this year, and his training will be tweaked for next season.

For all his achievements - two-time Warriors' Player of the Year, 196 NRL games, 23 tests, first NYC graduate to record 150 NRL games - there is a sense of unfulfilled potential in Matulino, neatly summarised by former coach Matt Elliott in 2013.

"Ben has to get his head around being international-class and one of the best props in the world," said Elliott. "Maybe he is actually too humble. That quality doesn't need to change but he should recognise privately that he could be one of the world's best props."

- NZ Herald

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