Melbourne Storm legend Cameron Smith has backed Craig Bellamy to introduce Ryan Papenhuyzen this week as the fullback looks to make a comeback. Papenhuyzen recently returned to the playing field after close to 12 months on the sidelines with a fractured kneecap he suffered in a game against the Raiders year.
The dynamic fullback has played three games in the Queensland Cup and appears on the verge of making his return to the NRL. Bellamy and the Storm have remained coy about if and when they will deploy Papenhuyzen in first grade, but have suggested it could come before the finals.
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And club legend Smith believes this weekend is the right time to introduce Papenhuyzen to see if he is ready for finals footy with the fullback named on an extended bench. “I think they have to throw him in, at some stage he has to go in and I don’t think there’s a better time than this week, they take on the Titans in Melbourne," Smith told SEN Radio.
“After that, they finish with the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, we know where the Broncos are at, at the moment they’re flying, they’ll be very confident, and they’ve got a big aggressive football side. Maybe this week is the opportunity to put Papenhuyzen in.”
While Papenhuyzen is one of the premier fullbacks when in form, he hasn't played footy for a year. Nick Meaney has performed a stellar role in his absence and Smith believes Papenhuyzen should be introduced off the bench.
“I would bring him in off the bench, start Nick Meaney and bring Papenhuyzen in when the game has settled down a little bit when the sting has been taken out of the match,” Smith added “If you’re in two minds about playing or even the possibility of throwing him into NRL this year you have to throw him in now, play him before the finals and see if he’s up to it.
“If he’s not, that’s fine… they’re two weeks away from semi-final football and we all know that’s another level from your regular season game. If they’re thinking of playing him this year in the first grade, I’d chuck him in this week.”
Nick Meaney discusses Ryan Papenhuyzen return
Meaney has been one of the most consistent fullbacks in the NRL as the Storm's No.1. However, with no other injuries in the backline, there is no clear place for the in-form Meaney in the starting line-up once Papenhuyzen returns. "Craig sort of spoke to me about when he comes back, whether there's that role coming off the bench, or keep my spot at fullback," Meaney said.
"He's spoken to me about just playing my best footy, try and learn each week, get better each week. I knew that coming down here that Paps was here (as first-choice fullback). I'm there to do my best job for the team, no matter where that is."
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