Ryan Papenhuyzen Is Back And Another Storm Is Brewing

In a competition that's full of ups and downs every year, the Melbourne Storm have been one of the rare constants for the best part of 20 years. Plenty predicted (and many hoped) that the end of Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith would mark the end of Melbourne’s dominance.

As we know now, that hasn’t been the case.

The Storm flew through the 2021 season before falling a game short of the Grand Final. To start 2022, they’ve won four of their opening five games by an average of 17.2 points and with a 19.4% premiership projection are second favourites for the flag where Stats Insider's futures model is concerned. 

They’re elite on both sides of the ball and no team is better to watch when firing on all cylinders.

Melbourne’s success can’t be put down to one player. However, Ryan Papenhuyzen’s start to the season deserves considerable mention. Following a challenging end to 2021 and a disrupted preseason thanks to a rolled ankle, Papenhuyzen has hit the ground running to once again be recognised as one of the best fullbacks of the game and a possible State of Origin debutant in the upcoming series.

Punters- At TopSport, Melbourne are paying $4.4 to win the premiership and are second favourites behind Penrith. 

Bouncing Back

There was a moment last season when it felt as though Papenhuyzen would never get back to his best. Forced onto the sideline for nine games following a concussion in Round 10, and spending four games coming off the bench in his return, Papenhuyzen didn’t look the same. Understandably, he wasn’t as electric or fearless with the ball as he was before the head knock.

It made sense for a couple of weeks as most assumed the next game would be the one he clicked back into gear. But as the season progressed and the Storm kicked off finals football, Papenhuyzen continued to struggle and that next game never really came. A shock defeat to the Penrith Panthers in the Preliminary Final ended Melbourne and Papenhuyzen’s 2021 season and they were left to wonder what could have been after dominating for much of the year.

Fast-forward through a preseason and five rounds of football and the Storm are again towards the top of the ladder. Notably, Papenhuyzen is alongside Penrith’s Isaah Yeo at the top of the Dally M Leaderboard.

Papenhuyzen is back. His mullet is flying through the air with reckless abandon, popping up anywhere there is an opportunity. That constant pressure around the ball is already translating into big numbers.

After Round 5:

5 Games
7 Tries
16 Goals
2 Try assists
15 Tackle Breaks
4 Line Breaks
3 Line Break Assists
657 Running Metres (131m per game)

Playing alongside players of the quality of Harry Grant, Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes is a pleasure few fullbacks get to enjoy. Papenhuyzen is unlikely to put up similar individual numbers if he isn’t playing with guys in the top three at their position. However, it goes both ways.

Papenhuyzen is the cherry on top of the Storm attack. The ace up their sleeve. He’s what takes them to the next level with the ball in hand and it’s his return to form - alongside a particularly impressive Munster - that has inspired another strong start to the season in Melbourne.

Punters- At TopSport, the Storm are paying $1.35 to finish in the top four for an 8th straight season.

What he adds to the Storm in attack

As Craig Bellamy said after the Storm trashed the Bulldogs in Round 4, “he's [Papenhuyzen] taking a big hand in this side and where the ball goes and when it goes.”

Papenhuyzen is one of the best support players in the competition at the moment. His 36 total supports is 9th in the competition but the eye test, and Bellamy’s comments, tell us he is active and around the ball a lot more than 7.2 points per game.

His speed allows him to hang off a little bit more than most fullbacks as he weighs up the movement of his teammates and how they react to the defence. When in possession, nobody is able to hold their speed while changing direction quite like Papenhuyzen. Once he tucks the ball and tucks his head, it’s over.

Grant does a superb job of holding up the markers and Hughes plays direct to hold the A defender here. Bang. Up pops Papenhuyzen as he flies into the backfield. A right foot step beats the fullback and he switches his ball-carrying arm just in case he needs to apply a fend.

He makes it look easy at times. So easy that his influence is sometimes discredited as something any other fullback could achieve. Given his size and speed, Matt Dufty is a player often compared to Papenhuyzen. Former Bulldogs hooker, Mick Ennis, referenced their similar size and discrepancy in production throughout Dufty’s “horrible night” on Sunday.

A big difference between Papenhuyzen, Dufty and other diminutive fullbacks, is the way the Storm #1 uses that size. Papenhuyzen picks his moments and angles. He looks to get half a step to the outside of his defender and tries to avoid being tackled above the ball and put on his back. Not prolific in kick return metres, it is more to do with knowing his strengths than avoiding physicality.

Most 80 kg fullbacks are looking to shift the ball or hit the outside shoulder of the man in front of him on this play. Papenhuyzen, however, puts his body on the line and throws himself at the defence. He saw the opportunity and didn’t shy away from the likelihood of being smashed.

Notably, there is Dufty failing to do the same, giving Papenhuyzen an easier passage to the try line.

When Papenhuyzen isn’t floating around the ruck and hanging off the shoulder of his fellow spine players, he’s out the back of shape looking to send the Storm outside backs down the sideline.

Again, he makes it look easy with a simple catch and pass and has scored two tries doing exactly the same thing already this season.

Papenhuyzen puts himself on the end of a long-side shift, gets onto the outside of the three-in defender which throws some doubt into the two defenders outside him. He sends Xavier Coates streaking down the outside with a simple pass and follows up in support to score.

That isn’t easy. It’s speed, impeccable timing, making the right decision with the ball, executing on the pass, and pushing up in support.

Punters- At TopSport, Ryan Papenhuyzen is the $2.42 favourite to be this year's top NRL point scorer.

Sky Is The Limit

It may come as a surprise to some that Ryan Papenhuyzen is only 23-years-old and heads into Round 6 against the Sharks with just 62 games of first-grade experience - 46 as a starter.

His seamless transition from reserve grade star into one of the best fullbacks in rugby league makes it feel as though he has been around a lot longer. What is scary is the room still left for improvement.

James Tedesco didn’t develop into the ball-player he is today until his sixth or seventh season in the competition. The ability to read and outsmart a defence and rely less on physical attributes like speed and acceleration is something that develops over time. We’re still a couple of years away from Papenhuyzen reaching that level and there is every chance those physical attributes that make him so good right now are still present.

Despite his small stature, Papenhuyzen is still willing in defence. He isn’t afraid to put his body in front of a charging attacking player to act as a speed bump or hold the ball up over the line. Again, in-game experience, particularly in defence, is an area he will continue to develop in the coming years.

There has already been some talk about Papenhuyzen featuring in the New South Wales Blues side. He won’t unseat Tedesco at fullback, but Brad Fittler loves a bench utility and the Storm fullback could add some real spark off the bench against tiring middle forwards. Regardless of whether or not it is this year or next, representative football is the next step in Papenhuyzen’s career as he cements himself as one of the best fullbacks in the world.

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Jason Oliver

As far as Jason is concerned, there is no better time of year than March through June. An overlap of the NBA and NRL seasons offer up daily opportunities to find an edge and fund the ever-increasing number of sports streaming services he subscribes to. If there's an underdog worth taking in either code, he'll be on it.

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