Melbourne Storm will have to do without their talismanic fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen for the foreseeable future as he continues to recover from a horrific knee injury that he suffered last season.
As the Storm navigate a period of transition, having lost the core of their forward pack and with conjecture around Craig Bellamy’s tenure showing no signs of letting up, here’s what we know about Papenhuyzen’s status moving forward.
What is Ryan Papenhuyzen’s injury?
After Papenhuyzen and co had started the 2022 season on fire, notching massive wins over the likes of the Bulldogs, Warriors, Knights and Dragons, they came crashing back to earth with a mid-season slump that coincided with the fullback’s first absence due to a hamstring issue.
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Yet while Bellamy’s troops had looked like they had gotten back on track after missing Papenhuyzen for five games, they entered into their round 18 clash with Canberra in the midst of another horrible run of form.
But their two losses on the bounce to Manly and Cronulla paled in comparison to the damage inflicted on them by Canberra in their third successive defeat.
During the 20-16 loss at AAMI Park, Papenhuyzen tried to tackle a rampaging Jack Wighton who had broken away down the touchline. This attempt to wrangle the Canberra five-eighth resulted in the flyer shattering his patella into 10 pieces.
His rehabilitation from that gruesome accident has now taken a lot longer than initially expected to recover from.
Ryan Papenhuyzen off with a knee injury, direct contact & can see lower leg violently forced backwards. Concern in these cases usually a PCL injury, but Paps already tore his PCL earlier this season. Traumatic contact brings high risk of fracture too. Wide range of outcomes here pic.twitter.com/4NegYDMFEB
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) July 17, 2022
Papenhuyzen followed in the footsteps of Latrell Mitchell in venturing over to America to work with renowned reconditioning specialist Bill Knowles earlier this year. And when he returned, an initial timeframe was set for Papenhuyzen to turn out for Melbourne again between rounds 6-8.
However, the man himself has hosed down those suggestions as he continues to recover.
MORE: Why is Papenhuyzen the latest star to see specialist who treats knee injuries like a brain injury?
Ryan Papenhuyzen provides latest update on his injury and ‘ambitious’ return date
“Coming out of the week I did in the States, I thought I’d be back at round 6-8,” Papenhuyzen told Triple M just two weeks out from the new season beginning.
“But that’s probably a little bit ambitious at the moment.
“It’s going well but it’s a slow process. My mentality at the moment is just about getting back and being at the level I was performing at before, or close enough, rather than just coming back.
“It’s taking a little bit longer, but in saying that, it’s giving me confidence each day to chase after it and make sure I’m playing at a good level of footy.”
However, Papenhuyzen admitted that his road back had been an arduous one both mentally and physically since suffering the injury.
“It’s definitely been tough,” he said.
“I’ve tried to be positive about the situation, but it’s definitely had its times. The way I’ve stayed positive is realising it’s not my time at the moment and it will eventually come.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win a premiership and play in a pretty good footy side at the moment, so it’s just trying to look at those sorts of things.
“I’ve got a long-term contract, so I still get paid to go through this rehab process, so although it’s hard not playing, you’ve just got to look at those things as a positive.
“I’m getting through day-by-day but it’s obviously frustrating. I’ve just got to have the strong belief that my time will come, and I’ll have a good run eventually, so I’ve just got to hang in there.”
What is Ryan Papenhuyzen’s contract situation?
In July 2021, Papenhuyzen inked a three-year contract extension to keep him in Melbourne until the end of the 2025 season.
After his breakthrough season in 2019, he played a major part in the club’s 2020 premiership as he was awarded the Clive Churchill Medal for his starring display in the Storm’s victory over Penrith.
“It’s awesome to have these three extra years locked in,” he said at the time of the announcement.
“This club gave me my opportunity to play NRL and I just feel like I owe them to sign on here for a few more years. Hopefully, it’s going to be a successful four years to come.”
Who will replace Ryan Papenhuyzen at fullback for the Storm?
Replacing a man who has become an integral component of the side’s attack is no easy feat. In his 69 appearances across four seasons for Melbourne, he has scored 48 four-pointers while also providing 35 assists.
Nick Meaney, fresh off inking his own new deal, is favourite to take the No.1 jersey in his absence.
MORE: Nick Meaney signs contract extension to keep him at the Melbourne Storm
“Paps is still out, so I’ve been at the back doing the drills and 13 on 13 at fullback,” he said ahead of the trials.
“I’ll keep building in that area and then when round one comes around, whoever we’ve got there is ready to go.”
Who will Melbourne play without Ryan Papenhuyzen in 2023?
The Storm kick-off their season with a tough trip away to last year’s beaten grand finalists Parramatta on Thursday 2nd March.
They then have two home games against Canterbury and Wests Tigers, as well as a trip to the Gold Coast before they meet South Sydney in a blockbuster clash in round five.
Given Papenhuyzen’s latest update, the Bunnies could be the side he makes his return against with the two clashing again in round 10 after Melbourne have had the bye in the week prior.
Melbourne Storm opening fixtures for 2023 NRL season
|Thursday 2nd March||Parramatta [A]|
|Saturday 11th March||Canterbury [H]|
|Saturday 18th March||Gold Coast [A]|
|Friday 24th March||Wests Tigers [H]|
|Friday 31st March||South Sydney [A]|
|Thursday 6th April||Sydney Roosters [H]|
|Friday 14th April||Manly [A]|
|Tuesday 25th April||New Zealand [H]|
|Saturday 6th May||South Sydney [H]|
|Thursday 11th May||Brisbane [H]|
|Saturday 20th May||Dolphins [A]|
|Sunday 4th June||North Queensland [A]|