Ryan Papenhuyzen hailed for stunning resilience after gesture from Billy Slater and wife

The Melbourne Storm fullback has returned to his best after back-to-back injuries.

The Melbourne Storm's general manager of football has revealed how Ryan Papenhuyzen's mental toughness kept him motivated to get back to his best during a horror run of injuries. The 25-year-old suffered back-to-back leg injuries in 2022 and 2023, sparking fears over his future in the NRL.

Papenhuyzen suffered a fractured kneecap in 2022, and only managed to get back on the park at the end of the 2023 season. But his return ended in disaster when he broke his leg in just his third game back after getting it caught under Storm teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona.

Billy Slater and wife Nicole, pictured here alongside Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Billy Slater and wife Nicole have helped Ryan Papenhuyzen with his mental toughness. Image: Getty

The second incident sparked concerns that Papenhuyzen might be forced to walk away from the NRL, but the fullback has returned with a bang and has been in fine form so far in 2024. Discussing the resilience Papenuyzen has shown during his long layoffs, Storm football boss Frank Ponissi said on Tuesday: "We never lost belief in him. It was just how long it was going to take for him to get back to his best.

"It is just so pleasing that he has done it so early. It is absolute resilience, but the other thing that doesn't get mentioned with Paps is his mental toughness.

"After the 2020 grand final he got that bad concussion, then he got the knee injury and then the ankle. That mental toughness doesn't get associated with Paps because he is a glamour player and speed player. It is all about the flashy things he does. But he is incredibly mentally tough to do what he has done and come back like he is."

How Billy Slater and wife helped Ryan Papenhuyzen with mental game

Speaking last year, Papenhuyzen revealed how the mentorship of Storm legend Billy Slater and wife Nicole helped him stay in top shape mentally - even when his body was struggling. Slater suffered a number of significant injuries throughout his career, but helped Papenhuyzen win the mental battle associated with being out of action for extended periods.


Billy and Nicole Slater have invited Papenhuyzen into their family home on a number of occasions, and the Slaters have become a second family to the young fullback. "Billy has been awesome. I am where I am now because of him," Papenhuyzen told AAP last September.

"He went through such a long-term injury himself and understands how tough it is, but him and (wife) Nicole would invite me over to their place and we would just have a day out where we would not talk about footy. He understood the mental side of rehab and how you need to switch off sometimes and enjoy the company of others. I am just really grateful to them.

"They would invite me out to their farm. We'd go out and have dinner. (Slater's children) Tyla and Jake would chill out and we'd go play some tennis."

Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Ryan Papenhuyzen in action for the Melbourne Storm. (Getty Images)

Slater played just eight games in the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to injury, and knew exactly how to help Papenhuyzen reset his mind. "He is unbelievable. I am forever in debt to him," Papenhuyzen said.

"He has helped me through the whole ordeal. He reached out about how important it is to have someone else (helping) while you are not playing, to keep your mind simulated. It is just special to have someone like him at the club who wants to give back so much.

"You have your days where you don't think it is possible (to get back), and even coming back you don't know if you are going to make the 17. It is daunting. It is scary but I am just happy I put in all the hard work … all those days where you don't want to do things but you just have to do them."