Sport Confidential: Kevin Walters denies Titans link, Ryan Matterson meets with Wayne Bennett

The virus far worse than Covid, Kevin Walters opens up on his expectations of Adam Reynolds and more in Sport Confidential.

Forget Covid, there is another virus wreaking havoc on the NRL this year.

The influenza outbreak spreading across Australia has been labelled “a lot worse than Covid”, with numerous players struck down in recent weeks.

While players must isolate for at least seven days if they contract Covid, the majority have had mild symptoms.

That hasn’t been the same with the flu, which has left many players seriously ill and unable to play.

“We had a few knocked around with it last week pretty badly,” Titans coach Justin Holbrook said.

“It’s a lot worse than Covid really.”

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Covid brought rugby league to a halt, but influenza is much tougher on the players according to Justin Holbrook. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt
Covid brought rugby league to a halt, but influenza is much tougher on the players according to Justin Holbrook. Picture: AAP Image/Glenn Hunt

WALTERS CLEARS UP TITANS RUMOURS

Kevin Walters has lashed suggestions he missed out on coaching the Gold Coast Titans to Justin Holbrook.

Walters and Holbrook will sit in the coaches’ boxes at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night for the first M1 derby of 2022.

In a parallel universe, Walters could have been sitting in the away coaches’ box if he had replaced Garth Brennan as Titans coach in late 2019.

But the Broncos legend insists he never wanted the Titans’ top job, and was instead holding out for the Brisbane gig to become available, which eventually happened when Anthony Seibold was sacked in 2020.

Kevin Walters has denied he chased the Titans job. Picture: Dan Peled/Getty Images
Kevin Walters has denied he chased the Titans job. Picture: Dan Peled/Getty Images

“I never chased the Titans job,” Walters said.

“My eyes were always focused on one day coaching the Broncos.

“There were reports at the time saying I would get the Titans job, but in all honesty, I felt they always had their eyes on Justin Holbrook and rightly so.

“It’s about picking the right job in the NRL. My dream was to coach at the Broncos and it’s worked out great for me the last 18 months.

“I was very grateful to get the opportunity so I can’t be happier with my job at the Broncos.

“The Titans have had a tough year, but I have no doubt they will lift against us this week. I’m not so much worried about the Titans, my energy is on the Broncos.”

KEVVIE BACKS SKIPPER FOR LONG HAUL

Brisbane coach Kevin Walters insists Adam Reynolds will not be placed on a modified training program and believes the Broncos skipper could extend his career at Red Hill until 2025.

Reynolds missed last week’s win over the Knights and he is sidelined for Friday night’s derby against the Titans following separate groin and hamstring injuries in the past fortnight.

That has raised concerns the 31-year-old’s body could struggle to see out his three-year deal with the Broncos and whether Reynolds may require a reduced training load to save him from early retirement.

But Walters scoffed at suggestions Reynolds is at breaking point and says he wouldn’t be surprised if the champion halfback signed one more deal with the Broncos.

L to R, Adam Reynolds and Kevin Walters. Picture: Steve Pohlner
L to R, Adam Reynolds and Kevin Walters. Picture: Steve Pohlner

“I don’t feel we need to manage Adam,” he said. “He is just going through a patch where he has had a few niggles. He’s not injury-prone at all. He missed round one because of Covid which wasn’t an injury and he had a slight groin issue last week, but for the most part he has been on the field and he has been outstanding for us.

“Adam is a tough little bugger and he wants to be in everything which is great.

“We don’t have any concerns around his body or the need to modify training. He keeps himself in good shape and he is facing some niggles that come up in everyone’s career. I’m not concerned about his age, in fact I believe he could go on beyond his current deal.”

MATTERSON’S ‘SECRET’ MEETING WITH BENNETT EXPOSED

Ryan Matterson is in danger of quitting Parramatta with the NSW Origin hopeful making a secret trip to Queensland for talks with Dolphins super coach Wayne Bennett.

Sport Confidential can reveal Matterson embarked on a hit-and-run mission on Tuesday, flying north for negotiations with Dolphins hierarchy in the lead-up to Parramatta’s clash against Canberra on Sunday.

The off-contract Matterson inspected the Dolphins training base and headquarters at Redcliffe before lunching with Bennett, who has already poached one Eels top-liner in hardworking forward Ray Stone.

Ryan Matterson is in the sights of Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett. Picture: Getty
Ryan Matterson is in the sights of Dolphins coach Wayne Bennett. Picture: Getty

The Eels are set to table an offer for Matterson but they risk losing a bidding war to the Dolphins, who are prepared to entice the in-form Eels lock with a three-year deal worth in excess of $1.5 million.

Matterson is on $550,000 this season but the Eels may struggle to compete with the Dolphins’ dollars.

Bennett has already secured Melbourne forward trio Jesse and Kenny Bromwich and Felise Kaufusi and confirmed his interest in Matterson, who would be a handy weapon for the Dolphins as their inaugural No. 13.

“Yes, we’ve had a meeting, so we’ll see what happens,” Bennett said.

“We’re very interested in Ryan. He came up here, we’ve had some talks and now we’ll wait and see what happens.”

Wayne Bennett says Matterson is a target of the Dolphins, who have struggled to land a big fish so far. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Wayne Bennett says Matterson is a target of the Dolphins, who have struggled to land a big fish so far. Picture: Steve Pohlner

The Eels are facing a forward exodus with Stone, Marata Niukore, Isaiah Papali’I, Oregon Kaufusi and Reed Mahoney all signed with other clubs for next season.

Dolphins recruitment boss Peter O’Sullivan first signed Matterson to the Roosters in 2016. The skilful back-rower has since amassed 129 top-grade games and was impressed with Bennett’s pitch for his role at the Dolphins.

“Wayne coached Ryan’s uncle Terry Matterson at the Broncos so Ryan has always had great respect for Wayne,” said his manager Chris Orr.

“Ryan has a few things to consider. He is currently in a very professional club at the Eels playing alongside some handy players under a very good coach in Brad Arthur.

“Ryan wanted to meet those involved at Dolphins to better understand the club and to talk football with Wayne as part of his decision-making process.

“We’re waiting on an offer from the Eels before Ryan makes a final call.”

DOLPHINS PLUNDER THE PREMIERS

The Dolphins are set to complete the signing of five Panthers as their poaching raid on Penrith’s ranks continues.

Sport Confidential can reveal the Dolphins are on the verge of signing two young gun Panthers forwards as coach Wayne Bennett and recruitment boss Peter O’Sullivan move closer to finalising the inaugural 30-man squad of the NRL’s 17th team in 2023.

The Dolphins have already poached some of Penrith’s best young talent, halfback Isaiya Katoa, while centre John-Paul Denovski and utility back Robert Jennings have inked deals with the new franchise.

Meanwhile, former Queensland Origin centre Brenko Lee is expected to quit the Broncos to link with the Dolphins. Wigan were keen to sign Lee, but the 26-year-old is expected to reunite with Bennett at the Dolphins next season.

Treymain Spry has resumed training. Picture: Supplied.
Treymain Spry has resumed training. Picture: Supplied.

COWARD PUNCH VICTIM BACK IN ACTION

Titans flyer Treymain Spry has recovered from the significant injuries he suffered in an alleged one-punch attack and returned to training.

Spry has been spotted doing some fitness drills away from the Titans’ main squad over the past week.

It has been three months since Spry was attacked in the Fortitude Valley, leaving him hospitalised with a fractured skull and bleeding on the brain.

While he must still be cleared to return to the field, Spry is tracking in the right direction.

“He is back training, he’s just started,” coach Justin Holbrook said.

”I’ve got no idea on a time frame for him to return to play and I don’t think the medical staff do either.

“He has been cleared to do light duties like jogging.”

OCTOBER RISING FOR TSZYU TITLE SHOT

Australian sports fans are set for a treat in October with Tim Tszyu hoping to fight for his maiden world title against American sensation Jermell Charlo just days after this year’s NRL grand final.

Tszyu’s promoters No Limit have held preliminary talks with the Charlo camp with a view to a World Boxing Organisation world-title blockbuster in the same month as the NRL decider on Sunday, October 2.

It is believed the WBO has requested an indication from Charlo as to whether he plans to face Tszyu – their mandatory challenger – or relinquish the title.

Charlo’s promoters Premier Boxing Champions are keen to stage the Texan’s title defence in his hometown Houston. But the Tszyu camp has no interest in risking a backyard Texan judging decision and is pushing for a multimillion-dollar bout in Las Vegas.

Tim Tszyu’s (L) camp have held preliminary talks with the Charlo camp. Picture: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images/AFP
Tim Tszyu’s (L) camp have held preliminary talks with the Charlo camp. Picture: Adam Bettcher/Getty Images/AFP

It is understood scores of NRL stars are keen to travel to the States to support Tszyu in his world-title bid, but the upcoming Rugby League World Cup, which starts on October 15, could prevent some big names attending.

The prospect of Tszyu hosting a world-title fight in Australia is now at long odds, with the son of Kostya relishing facing the savage Charlo on American soil.

“I think me and him will sell because there’s no love lost,” Tszyu said. “I want the fight to happen in America. I would love to beat him on his home ground.

“He knows exactly who I am. I am the mandatory challenger for the WBO so he has three months to make a decision. He has to fight me or vacate the belt.”

HODGO WANTS ORIGIN MEGA FIGHT WITH GALLEN

Justin Hodges has sensationally called out AFL legend Barry Hall as the former Broncos skipper looks to secure an NRL mega fight with State of Origin rival Paul Gallen.

Hodges’ dalliance with boxing looked to be in tatters when he lost his third fight to Darcy Lussick in 2019, but he bounced off the canvas with a majority points decision over former Newcastle winger Nathan Ross last December.

Now Hodges (3-1, 2KO) wants a piece of ‘Big Bad Barry’, who is determined to atone for his embarrassing first-round defeat to Sonny Bill Williams in March.

Hodges is set to appear on the undercard of a Fox Sports fight night headlined by Liam Wilson in Brisbane on June 29. The former Queensland Origin centre has yet to secure an opponent, but he is keen to fight Hall as a stepping stone to one day taking on Gallen.

Justin Hodges (R) is keen to fight Barry Hall as a stepping stone to Paul Gallen. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Justin Hodges (R) is keen to fight Barry Hall as a stepping stone to Paul Gallen. Picture: Jeremy Piper

While the 40-year-old Gallen is tipped to retire after two wars in the past year with Justis Huni and Kris Terzievski, Hodges, also 40, would relish an Origin-style blockbuster.

“I’m looking for a big name,” Hodges said. “Barry Hall fought recently and would be a massive opportunity for me. He went the distance with Gal (Paul Gallen), so that would see where I’m at.

“If I can’t beat a guy like Barry Hall then there’s no chance of me ever fighting ‘Gal’.

“I’m super excited to be fighting in Queensland, my hometown and alongside a fellow Queenslander in Liam Wilson.

“Hopefully by the time this fight rolls around Queensland will have locked the State of Origin series up 2-0 as well, so it will be even more of a celebration.”

MRS LANGER COOKS UP A STORM

The spirit of Allan Langer still shines in Ipswich. Our spies spotted Broncos legend Alfie’s mum, Rita, helping out at the barbecue and serving sausages at his old school, Blair State School at Sadliers Crossing, as people queued to vote in last weekend’s federal election.

SPOTTED

Cronulla winger Ronaldo Mulitalo accepting a cinnamon doughnut from a Sharks fan in the Cbus Super Stadium crowd after last Sunday’s win against the Titans. Mulitalo must have been peckish after a big game.

PUNTERS ABANDON TITANS

Punters have written off the Titans when it comes to winning this year’s NRL premiership.

While the Cowboys and Broncos’ odds continue to tighten as TAB take solid outlays in both the premiership and final Eight markets, the interest in their Queensland cousins the Titans is at rock bottom.

Heading into Friday night’s derby against the in-form Brisbane, punters have written off Gold Coast, who are the worst backed team to win the title and have little support to make the semi-finals.

“The Titans started the season as Queensland’s shortest priced side at $17 now they’re $201,” said TAB’s Rohan Welsh.

“Punters saw through them pretty early, by round four they had replaced Newcastle and Wests Tigers as the team with the least support in our title market.

“The main money that comes for them is when David Fifita’s carving up and filling out try scorer markets, but that isn’t happening this year.”

The Broncos are now the second best backed side to make the Final Eight with TAB, behind the Dragons who surprisingly hold twice as much money.

(L-R) Paul Gallen and Jason Whateley.
(L-R) Paul Gallen and Jason Whateley.

AUSSIES’ WORLD-TITLE COLLISION COURSE

Australian cruiserweight Jason Whateley recently broke world-title contender Jai Opetaia’s ribs in sparring.

Now, if the planets align, the Aussie duo could find themselves squaring off for a world title.

The IBF has ordered Whateley to face Poland’s Mateusz Masternak for the No. 1 ranking – opening the door to take on the winner of the Opetaia-Mairis Breidis world-title showdown on the Gold Coast on July 2.

Masternak, who possesses an outstanding 46-5 (31 KO) record, is currently ranked fifth by the IBF. Former Olympian and Commonwealth Games silver medallist Whateley (10-0, 9KO) is relishing the prospect of winning the bout, which could put him on a collision course with Opetaia for a world-title fight.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to face Masternak who has had a great career,” he said. “I really am looking forward to testing myself against him. I’ve travelled all over the world in the amateurs so if the fight is in Poland, so be it. That said, having it in Australia with our crowd cheering me on would be amazing.”

Originally published as Sport Confidential: Kevin Walters denies Titans link, Ryan Matterson meets with Wayne Bennett

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