Ryan Papenhuyzen's return locked in as Melbourne Storm handed massive boost

The gun fullback will be back in action this weekend as he builds towards a comeback to the NRL.

Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Ryan Papenhuyzen hasn't played since fracturing his kneecap in July last year. Image: Getty

Ryan Papenhuyzen will make his return to the playing field this weekend in what could shape as a huge boost for the Melbourne Storm's premiership hopes. The dynamic fullback hasn't played in nearly 13 months after fracturing his kneecap in multiple places in a collision with Jack Wighton.

Papenhuyzen has endured a long and difficult rehab process that has lasted over a year, but is finally set to return to the field on Saturday. Papenhuyzen will play for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the Queensland Cup as he works his way back to full match fitness.

'WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND': Cam Smith responds to Storm trophy furore

'SAD TO HEAR': NRL world reacts to awful news about Wally Lewis

"It hasn't really sunk in, so I'm just going through the training week and trying to prepare like it's a normal game," he said. "It's been a while between drinks and it's had its ups and setbacks.

"It's probably taken a bit longer than I expected but at the same time, I'm happy I did (the rehabilitation). It's been long enough now that I feel ready."

Papenhuyzen hasn't put a specific date on a potential return to the NRL, but says he wants to be back playing with the fourth-placed Storm ahead of the finals. "It's a big step back after such a significant injury," he said of this weekend's Queensland Cup clash. "I want to be back playing NRL, so I've got a bit to go to achieve the goals. I just have to keep doing the work."

Storm coach Craig Bellamy hinted that Papenhuyzen would need multiple games in the Queensland Cup before making his return to first grade. "He hasn't played rugby league for a long time ... he'll need some time just to find his feet," Bellamy said after the Storm's 46-14 win against Parramatta last Friday night.

"We'd love him to be at his best in the finals but he hasn't played for 12 months. It was a horrible injury that he's come back from. It's taken him probably a bit longer than everyone thought, all the medical people thought, so there's no pressure on him (and) there's no pressure on us to have to pick him."

With five rounds remaining before the finals, Papenhuyzen would be a monumental addition for the Storm in their quest to stop the Panthers winning their third premiership in a row. The 25-year-old returned to the training paddock earlier this month and has since been taking part in full contact sessions.

Ryan Papenhuyzen, pictured here at a Melbourne Storm training session.
Ryan Papenhuyzen in action at a Melbourne Storm training session. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

NRL fans excited for Ryan Papenhuyzen's return

Bellamy previously told reporters that he wouldn't bring Papenhuyzen straight back into first grade. “We’re not going to do that, and he’ll play some Queensland Cup games, without a doubt,” he said.

“How much match practice he’ll need at that lower level, I’m not quite sure. There’s no way he would come straight back into the NRL after how long he’s had out.

"The last 10 days, it’s been a rapid improvement. Maybe it was a confidence thing. I don’t know whether it’s been physical or mental or both ... he’ll build on that contact. He’s definitely on the right track."

If and how Papenhuyzen fits into the Storm side remains to be seen. Nick Meaney has been playing brilliantly at fullback, but also has the ability to slot in at wing and centre.

Centre Reimis Smith is currently sidelined with an adductor injury, while veteran back Justin Olam was axed last week. Young Tonumaipea and Marion Seve made the most of their chance in round 22 against Parramatta.

Papenhuyzen could also be used as an x-factor off the bench so Meaney can remain at the back. Either way, fans were left excited by the prospect of seeing him play again.

Heading into round 23, the Storm sit fourth on the ladder on 30 points with 12 wins and seven losses. They face the Panthers, Raiders, Dragons, Titans and Broncos in the run to the finals.

Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.