Ryan Matterson's calling to ensure people with disabilities "aren't defined by their limitations" has led to the Eels second-rower starting his own support service.
A keen contributor to an array of community initiatives, Matterson has been recognised with a nomination for the NRL's esteemed Ken Stephen Medal, proudly brought to you by Your Local Club.
After being involved with Giant Steps, and facilitating Parramatta's relationship with Heroes With Ability, Matterson and his brother Dean have created Meraki Disability Support.
"We've been given a perfect opportunity to put our passion into work," said Matterson, a Heroes With Ability ambassador.
"We've created a disability service with support workers assisting our clients in improving their social, emotional, physical skills in the community.
"Our organisation is a community-based service which is focused on increasing the client's independence in everyday life as well as enjoying every little moment along the way.
"Everything that we strive for is to try and make sure that, as an individual, they are not being defined by their limitations.
Eels partner with Heroes With Ability
"We're trying to make sure that when they come into society, into the community, they can be contributing members.
"Some of them are non-verbal, so we're trying to help them become less reliant on others and to become more confident in themselves.
"Everyday tasks like ordering their own food or being able to cross at the crossings safely [on the road], making their own lunch, little things like that."
Matterson finishes off some razzle dazzle
Meraki, Matterson explained, "means to do something from your heart with passion and absolute devotion.
"That's something that we're basing our work on. We have a big passion in doing this. As a newly founded organisation, our desire is to impact our clients' lives and also to support their families.
"As well as instilling belief into the wider community and giving them resources and experiences to influence and create a more inclusive and understanding world. "
The 26-year-old first became involved in the disability sector when his brother Dean, who is three years younger and signed to Mounties, was playing juniors for the Eels and working at Giant Steps - a school in Gladesville for children with autism.
"He still works at Giant Steps to this day," Matterson said.
"He started doing support work on the weekends. I'd go and hang out with them and think, 'This is so cool'. You get to hang out with these people who actually change your life.
"There's so much joy and excitement in that moment that it kinds of reflects to myself that life isn't that bad.
Matterson into the backfield and Mahoney is in support to score
"You get a sense of gratitude working with these kids."
Matterson took it upon himself to further his connections.
"Probably about four years ago, I was on Facebook and I just saw Heroes With Ability," the 2018 premiership winner said.
"There was a little fella named Marco who was running around playing footy. I inboxed them saying, 'Can I come and have a game?' And they said, 'Yeah, we've got a semi-final in the coming week'.
"And that was the day after we were [playing] the Bulldogs. So after I played my game, I went out and played with them ... in the [NSW Physical] Disability Rugby League tournament.
"When I got there, it was just amazing because I never knew it existed. There was South Sydney, Tigers, Newtown, Manly – it's like an NRL tournament, but for people with a disability.
"This bloke from Manly, he made a line-break and someone chased him down. He dived in the corner and scored and he had an amputated leg, so his prosthetic leg came off.
"Everyone starts laughing and they help him up, and he comes over to me and he goes, 'Matto, you don't see that in the NRL'.
"It was just an eye-catching moment and it made me think that there's so much joy that comes out of this game ... It just stripped it right back and reminded me how much fun rugby league is."
The big-hearted Matterson has made a difference in a multitude of other ways including regular hospital and school visits, interacting with fans and helping with Parramatta's new community strategy.
The ex-Rooster and Tiger has also been an ambassador for the NRL's Voice Against Violence program since 2018, has almost completed a Certificate IV in Youth Work and plans to study psychology.
"Everything that I do off-field, and on-field, is revolved around my faith. God has had a massive impact on what I do in the way I live my life, on and off the football field," Matterson said.
"It's all about making sure that I impact others and ensure the community is in a better place when I leave."
If he was to win the fan vote - which will decide one of four Ken Stephen Medal finalists and closes on August 8 - Matterson will collect a $3500 cash prize for his junior club, the Bankstown Bulls.
"They were there from the start and they always backed me into first grade when a lot of people didn't back me," he said.
"Bankstown Bulls have always got a place in my heart. Their under-15s Player of the Year award is called the Ryan Matterson award, so it just goes to show what a great club they've been to me."