Ryan Papenhuyzen got through his first contact session in nearly a year this week and is looking to make his return to the playing field in the coming weeks. The Melbourne Storm fullback suffered a devastating knee injury last year when he shattered his kneecap in a collision with Jack Wighton.
His recovery has been long and arduous, with the 25-year-old opening up about how frustrating a number of setbacks have been. Papenhuyzen recently returned to the training paddock with the Storm, and this week completed his first full contact session since last July.
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Speaking to reporters, Storm coach Craig Bellamy wouldn't rule out Papenhuyzen making his return to the NRL this year, but said the fullback will need to play a number of games in Queensland Cup before that is considered. The veteran coach admitted he had all-but given up hope of Papenhuyzen playing this year just three weeks ago, but now has renewed hope.
“We’re not going to do that (bring Papenhuyzen straight back into first grade), and he’ll play some Queensland Cup games, without a doubt,” Bellamy told the Sydney Morning Herald. “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."
The 25-year-old also provided an update for fans on social media on Saturday, tweeting: "I reckon I’m only a few weeks away now. Good couple of weeks at training. Back into contact, back into everything really. Now just topping up some k’s in the legs."
1 year to the day since Ryan Papenhuyzen fractured his patella in 10 places.
One of the most significant musculoskeletal injuries we’ve seen in the NRL in recent times - his rehab process has been gradual/intermittent but nearing end stage now! pic.twitter.com/LEPI69dsFP
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) July 17, 2023
The Storm sit fourth on the ladder on 28 points after their loss to Newcastle in round 21, and have six games remaining until the finals. The return of Papenhuyzen would undoubtedly be a boost to their finals hopes, although Nick Meaney has been playing brilliantly in the No.1 jersey.
Meaney is also a brilliant winger and could vacate the fullback position if Papenhuyzen returns, or Papenhuyzen could be used as an x-factor off the bench like he did early in his career. However there is also the possibility that the game-breaking fullback is put on ice until 2024.
"This week has a been a big step forward for him and I was a bit surprised earlier in the week with how well he's moving," Bellamy previously said. "We're not going to push his return but this week has been very promising in the progress that he's made."
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Earlier this year, Papenhuyzen flew to the states to work with Philadelphia-based rehab expert Bill Knowles, who has also helped Tom Trbojevic, Latrell Mitchell and Kalyn Ponga. "While it is weird doing a pre-season while the boys are in games, I had trust in the medical staff I would get back," he said in April.
"There was a perception on the outside that if I am not back by round six or eight, something was wrong with my rehab. That's not the case. We wanted to get back to a spot where I could perform at a high level. I haven't had a full season since 2020. We looked at that as remodelling, and then coming back hitting the ground running."
Fans were over the moon to hear of Papenhuyzen's progress and the prospect of him returning to game action this season.
That’s soooo good to hear!
— Cate (@nyy_cate) July 22, 2023
That’s awesome news mate! All the best 👍
— PANDAKERO 🐼 (@heypandakero) July 22, 2023
Great to hear Pap. We've missed you
I'm a raiders fan and I'm traveling to Melbourne from cbr to watch storm v raiders in a few weeks
I can see it now. Raiders lose on the buzzer courtesy of a freaky @ryanpapenhuyzen try. Hopefully not for my sake!
— Mark 2.0 (@cobba27) July 22, 2023
I’m really interested in what Melbourne do once Papenhuyzen is ruled fit to play. Does he slot straight into the team? Does he play reserves then slot in? Does he play out the season in reserves? Does he play off the bench?
— V (@TicsVitsJacThic) July 22, 2023
Great news!! Looking forward to seeing you back out on the field 👊
— LT 🐅 (@LeichhaTiger7) July 22, 2023
You love to see it 😍🔥
— Albert Vete (@albievete) July 22, 2023
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