Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has provided the biggest hint yet that his side will be boosted by the return of superstar fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen before the NRL finals series. Melbourne jumped back into the top-four after a 48-2 mauling of Canberra in round 24 that saw Raiders coach Ricky Stuart storm out of his post-match press conference after slamming the "embarrassing" display from his men.
The win all but sewed up a spot in the finals for Bellamy's side, who could be set to welcome Papenhuyzen back in the coming weeks in what would be a massive boost for Melbourne's premiership chances. The 2020 Clive Churchill Medallist hasn't played in the NRL for more than a year after shattering his kneecap in Magic Round in 2022.
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Papenhuyzen's recovery from the devastating injury has been a slow and cautious one, with Bellamy maintaining that he doesn't want to rush the superstar back too soon. Papenhuyzen returned recently in the Queensland Cup and starred for the Sunshine Coast Falcons on Saturday after playing the full 80 minutes.
It was just the second game back for the 25-year-old but he finished the game with a try, two try assists, two line break assists and 127 running metres in a display that will no doubt delight Bellamy. The Storm coach has been reluctant to put an exact return date on his star fullback's NRL return but suggested that it would likely come in one of the final games before the finals.
“It’d be nice to get him back, but I don’t want to bring him back too early," Bellamy said after Sunday's win. "He hasn’t played at the top level for a real long time so we’ll have a chat to him in the week and the medical team will have their say on it as well and we’ll see what happens."
The Storm next face the Dragons away on Saturday night, before rounding out their regular season with matches against the Titans and Broncos. “I doubt we’ll play him next week, but the following week if everything goes OK and we’re all on the same page then that might be a chance," Bellamy added.
Craig Bellamy has big Ryan Papenhuyzen questions to ponder
Papenhuyzen would be a monumental addition for the Storm in their quest to stop the Panthers winning their third premiership in a row. How he reintegrates back into the Storm side will also be another question that Bellamy has to figure out, with Nick Meaney enjoying a sensational season at fullback in Papenhuyzen's extended absence.
Bellamy may consider easing Papenhuyzen back into first grade by using him as an X-factor player off the interchange and leaving Meaney at fullback. However, the Storm coach offered another hint by praising the positional flexibility of Meaney in a sign that he could be set for a shift in the Melbourne backline when Papenhuyzen does return.
“All along we haven’t had any expectations at all and we’re just going to take it week by week, Bellamy said. “I had a quick chat to him (Papenhuyzen)... and he was quite happy with the way he got through, so we’ll just have a look at that and compare notes I suppose and have a look.
“But if you had a look at Nick’s performance (against Canberra)... he was one of our best. So there’s no pressure on us to rush him back or to have him back when he’s not quite ready, whether that be footy-wise or mentally. It would be good if he could come back because we know Nick can play any position in the backs.”
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