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Ryan Papenhuyzen's new revelation about Billy Slater and wife amid return to NRL

The Melbourne Storm legend and his family have taken the fullback under their wing.

Ryan Papenhuyzen made a successful return to the NRL on Friday night after initial fears the Melbourne Storm fullback's latest injury could be career-threatening. And once again it was the guidance of Billy Slater and his wife Nicole that helped Papenhuyzen overcome his demons.

The gun fullback suffered a devastating leg break just before the NRL finals in 2023 while playing in his third game back from a fractured kneecap. Papenhuyzen was sidelined for over 12 months after a collision with Jack Wighton in 2022 broke his kneecap into a dozen pieces.

Billy Slater and wife Nicole, pictured here alongside Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Billy Slater and wife Nicole have taken Ryan Papenhuyzen under their wing a number of times. Image: Getty

He managed to get back on the park at the end of the 2023 season, but had his leg broken after getting it caught under teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona in a tackle. There were initial fears that Papenhuyzen might never play again after the back-to-back leg injuries, but he has since dispelled that notion and was back in action on Friday night as the Storm beat the Panthers 8-0.

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The 25-year-old has been open about the mental demons he faced during his first stint on the sidelines, but revealed last year how Slater and wife Nicole took him under their wing and invited him into their family home. And speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald last week, the Sydney-born Papenhuyzen said the Slaters produced the same gesture again over the off-season.

"The Slaters are the closest thing I have to a family down here (in Melbourne). I’m like an older brother to their kids, and I even have my own bedroom now. Going to their farm, it’s an outlet. We’ll play [board game] Rummikub, cards, feed the horses, or his miniature donkeys, Monte and Carlo.

“When I first did my ankle last year, I headed out to the farm for a week, and Nic had me on a quadbike with my foot up, feeding the animals. Billy understands what I’m going through. It’s good just to talk. I only hope I can mentor someone like that one day.”

Billy Slater and wife Nicole, pictured here at the Dally M awards in 2017.
Billy Slater and wife Nicole at the Dally M awards in 2017. (AAPIMAGE)

How Billy Slater has helped Ryan Papenhuyzen overcome injuries

Slater played a mentoring role when Papenhuyzen started at the Storm at the back end of the club legend's career. Since retiring, Slater has continued to help guide and shape the 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 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's successful NRL return against Panthers

Papenhuyzen ran for 118 metres as the Storm continued their 22-year winning streak in the first round. “It was great to see Paps play with the confidence that he did tonight, he didn’t shirk at anything,” coach Craig Bellamy said after the 8-0 win.

Papenhuyzen said: "It's a good feeling. Just a really solid dogfight sort of game, I think. We knew it was going to be that way. [Penrith are] coming off a long trip from the World Club Challenge. I'm sure there will be a few sore legs on the Penrith side.

"We thought if we could stick with them, it doesn't have to be the prettiest footy. They have had a tough pre-season. Our loads have been up on every other pre-season. We had the confidence we could get through the game and did the job."

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