Ryan Papenhuyzen's stunning display amid difficult time for Billy Slater and family

The Melbourne Storm fullback is back to his best thanks to the guidance of the NRL legend.

Xavier Coates' miracle try has stolen the bulk of the NRL headlines - and rightly so. But Ryan Papenhuyzen's display for the Melbourne Storm in their 30-26 win over the Warriors on Saturday night was nothing short of brilliant.

Coates scored an incredible try in the final minute when he leaped over Dallin Watene-Zelezniak from almost five metres out before planting the ball down while the rest of his body was over the sideline but not touching the ground. The insane effort saw the Storm come back from 26-24 down to win a thrilling contest on the full-time siren.

Ryan Papenhuyzen, pictured here alongside Billy Slater and wife Nicole.
Ryan Papenhuyzen has returned to his best thanks to the guidance of Billy Slater and wife Nicole. Image: Getty

And while NRL fans and commentators are rightly singing Coates' praises, Papenhuyzen deserves his fair share of plaudits as well. Playing just his second NRL game since breaking his leg at the end of 2023, the livewire fullback showed he's already back to his best.

Papenhuyzen scored two tries and provided two line break assists, as well as breaking eight tackles and running for 162 metres in the victory. He sliced through the Warriors' defence for both of his tries, bursting through holes after two gorgeous inside passes from edge forwards Joe Chan and Eliesa Katoa.

Ryan Papenhuyzen thriving after gesture from Billy Slater and wife

The inside-out play is the exact same the Storm used to utilise with Billy Slater, with Cooper Cronk passing out to a forward before Slater was brought back through the gap on the inside. It's no surprise that Papenhuyzen is emulating Storm legend Slater considering how close the two are.

Papenhuyzen has spoken openly about how Slater and wife Nicole took him under their wing during his long injury layoff in 2022 and 2023 when he fractured his kneecap. The 25-year-old spent over 12 months out of the game after shattering his kneecap into a dozen pieces in 2022, and then broke his leg in just his third game back in 2023.

Ryan Papenhuyzen with Melbourne Storm teammates.
Ryan Papenhuyzen celebrates with Storm teammates after Xavier Coates' miracle try. (Daniel Pockett via Getty Images)


But Slater, who endured his fair share of injuries throughout his career, helped Papenhuyzen beat his demons and remain positive throughout it all. Slater and wife Nicole have invited Papenhuyzen into their family home on a number of occasions over the last few years, a gesture the 25-year-old is extremely grateful for.

"The Slaters are the closest thing I have to a family down here (in Melbourne)," the Sydney-born Papenhuyzen told the Sydney Morning Herald recently. "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 at the Dally M awards in 2018.
Billy Slater and wife Nicole. (Cameron Spencer via Getty Images)

Melbourne Storm's brilliant win amid difficult time for Billy Slater

Papenhuyzen first revealed the Slaters' gesture in September last year, telling AAP: "Billy has been awesome. I am where I am now because of him. 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."

The Slaters would have been on Papenhuyzen and his fellow Storm players' minds on Saturday night after the devastating death of Slater's brother-in-law last week. Storm players and officials were wearing black arm bands for the match against the Warriors after Ryan Craig - the husband of Slater's sister Sheena - died while saving his daughter after a boating accident near Mackay in Queensland.