Ryan Papenhuyzen was back running at pre-season training for the Melbourne Storm on Monday in a clear indication that the gun fullback should be ready for the start of the new NRL season. Papenhuyzen suffered a fractured ankle that ended his 2023 season in September, in what was just his third game back from a devastating knee-cap injury he suffered the year before.
The knee-cap fracture kept him sidelined for over 12 months, but the fullback managed to get back on the park towards the end of the 2023 season. But his year ended in devastating scenes when he suffered a fractured ankle in a game against the Broncos and was in tears on the field.
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The back-to-back injuries initially sparked fears for Papenhuyen's career, but the 25-year-old appears to be heading towards a return in round one this year. Papenhuyzen was spotted on the training paddock with the Storm in December, but it wasn't clear what capacity he was training in.
But on Monday, the Storm posted photos from training that showed the fullback in full flight. Fans were delighted to see the progress he is making. "Go Paps you’re looking good," one person wrote. Another commented: "So happy to see Papi going hard."
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The development comes after former NRL player Alex McKinnon made explosive claims that Storm coach Craig Bellamy was "almost asking for trouble" by playing Papenhuyzen out of his preferred position last year. Rather than bringing Papenhuyzen straight back in at fullback, Bellamy opted to ease him into things off the bench.
But against the Broncos, Papenhuyzen was asked to play more of a roaming playmaker role in the middle of the park, rather than moving to the back where he normally lines up. Bellamy opted to keep Nick Meaney at fullback - where he had played all year in Papenhuyzen's absence.
According to McKinnon, the decision not to play Papenhuyzen at fullback was partly to blame for his injury due to the fact he was required to make more tackles than usual. Papenhuyzen's injury came about when his ankle got caught underneath teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona in a tackle.
"I cannot understand the decision to play Ryan Papenhuyzen as a middle off the bench," McKinnon wrote in an opinion piece for Fox Sports at the time. "It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Papenhuyzen is a $1 million player coming back from a serious knee injury and playing him in the middle was almost asking for trouble.
"Nick Meaney has probably been the most overperforming value-for-money player this season, but Ryan Papenhuyzen is Ryan Papenhuyzen. If the plan was to play him for 50 minutes in the middle then surely he was fit enough to start at fullback. He’s a Ferrari but they were driving him like a RAV4."
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Papenhuyzen's return to training also comes after reports emerged that the Storm might be looking to move him to another club to create more playing time for young gun Sualauvi Faalogo. “I know what I have to offer and if they don’t see it then they don’t see that. But I know plenty of people who do," Papenhuyzen said last year.
"I’ve just got to keep doing what I need to do to get back and play and I’m confident when I do get back playing that those reports will go away. It’s only natural, it’s only business, obviously Sua has been playing good footy and (Nick) Meaney played really well this year so it was inevitable to happen, but at the same time it gives you that motivation to come back and prove them wrong.”
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