Papenhuyzen scores on return as Storm lose to Bulldogs

Scott Bailey |

Melbourne’s Ryan Papenhuyzen (right) scored a try during the pre-season match against the Bulldogs.
Melbourne’s Ryan Papenhuyzen (right) scored a try during the pre-season match against the Bulldogs.

Ryan Papenhuyzen has shown a glimpse of his scintillating best after getting through 40 minutes unscathed in Melbourne’s 24-12 NRL pre-season loss to Canterbury.

Playing for the first time since a devastating dislocated ankle last September, Papenhuyzen scored one try when he sprinted on to a Troy Pezet kick right on half-time.

It was the fullback’s final touch in the game, put on ice for the second half by Craig Bellamy as the Storm rotated through their extended squad.

But it was just the kind of moment a Melbourne side playing three of their first-choice starting players would have hoped for in Thursday night’s loss at Belmore.

Papenhuyzen has only played three games in the NRL and six rugby league matches in total since shattering his patella in July 2022.

His horrid run of luck extends back even further, with a run of concussions and other injuries limiting him to 24 games since May 2021.

Melbourne need Papenhuyzen at his best to push for a premiership this year, with the 2020 Clive Churchill Medallist facing pressure to hold off Sua Faalogo for the No.1 jersey.

But there were signs of the Papenhuyzen of old on Thursday night, after a second straight off-season trip to the US to see renowned rehabilitation expert Bill Knowles.

The fullback looked threatening with his first touch through the middle, and threw the last pass to Dean Ieremia for Melbourne’s first try.

His own four-pointer was then the highlight of the match, as he sprinted through on a Pezet kick from 30 metres out off a scrum.

On a set play, Papenhuyzen easily outran a pack of chasing Bulldogs to be first to the ball in a show of his electric speed.

“Pezet is a really talented kid and I knew he could pull off that kick – I just had to be on the end of it,” Papenhuyzen said. 

“I feel really quick. My top speed I recorded in 2018. I’ve hit 94 per cent of that and back then I was 60 kilos and now I’m 83. 

“Whether that’s my new top speed or not I don’t know, but I feel really confident I can hit it now. It’s just nice.”

Canterbury's Bronson Xerri
Canterbury’s Bronson Xerri scored a try in his first game back from a four-year drug ban. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

There were also positive signs for Canterbury, who ran out a much stronger outfit including Matt Burton and Drew Hutchison as the first-choice halves.

Bronson Xerri looked dangerous at left centre, finishing off a backline movement for one try and going within centimetres of scoring another in his first game back from a four-year drug ban.

Still only 23, Xerri ran with power for 161 metres, busted a tackle and also put his winger Jeral Skelton over for a try.

Blake Taaffe also looked impressive in his 45 minutes at fullback as he battles Stephen Crichton for the No.1 jersey, with the latter not playing on Thursday night.

Poasa Faamausili and Sam Hughes also had some damaging runs in the middle, including a powerful Faamausili  charge that led to the Bulldogs’ opening try through Eli Clark.