Craig Bellamy remains unsure about how Ryan Papenhuyzen will feature in the NRL finals after his brilliant return to fullback for the Storm after more than a year out. Papenhuyzen made his long-awaited return from a shattered knee cap last week and made the starting team against the Broncos on Thursday night.
And the fullback already showed Storm fans what they had been missing after scoring a try and setting up another in a strong display. Papenhuyzen's return from a year out comes as Melbourne secured a top four finish in the finals.
However, Nick Meaney has performed a stellar job filling in for the fullback in his time away from the game. Bellamy opted to rest Meaney from the final regular season game to give his spine a week off.
And Papenhuyzen's strong return has given Bellamy a tough decision ahead of the club's most important games of the season. Bellamy said is yet to decide whether the 2020 premiership winner will start or come off the bench in the finals since his return to fitness.
"I probably would have preferred to see him run the ball a bit more tonight but I am not sure how long it is going to take before he has that confidence," Bellamy said after the game. "It was an horrific injury and to be out for that long he is obviously going to be rusty in certain parts of the game. We are really happy with the last couple of weeks."
Bellamy admitted that Papenhuyzen brings something to the team they have been missing in 2023. "He gives you a little bit of X-factor. He is an experienced player too. He has been a Clive Churchill Medallist and we know he is going to add something to us.
"I just think he will get better and better as he goes along. Tonight was a really important step, to be able to play 80 minutes if he had to."
The Storm had 11 front line players out against the Broncos. Bellamy said hooker Harry Grant (shoulder) and half Jahrome Hughes (knee), who missed the match, were on track for finals.
"Harry will play. I am really confident of that, and I think Jahrome (will)," Bellamy said.
"We haven't seen Jahrome. We didn't bring him up to Brisbane because the flight could have swollen the injury up which wouldn't have been good for him."
Fans divided over Ryan Papenhuyzen introduction
While Bellamy will toss up whether to start Papenhuyzen or bring him on next week, fans had their say. Many felt Papenhuyzen showed he has the X-factor when it comes to the Storm and elevates them to another level.
— Nick Splitter (@nicksplitter) August 31, 2023
I’m sorry Bellamy but drop Young, put Meaney in the centres, Papenhuyzen to fullback & Sua off the bench (paps to middle defensively when he comes on) 👀👀 Sparks everywhereee 🧨
— JG (@Jaiggg_) August 31, 2023
I’d keep Ryan Papenhuyzen on the bench for 1-2 more games, depending on whether they get a weeks rest after week one of finals- one in that circumstance. He’s close, but more game-time fitness won’t hurt him to build more confidence #NRLBroncosStorm
— LOST TACKLE COUNT 12345555 (@NrlConspiracies) August 31, 2023
If Papenhuyzen gets rolling they go to another level
— Rohanc (@rohancct) August 31, 2023
The Storm will either player the Broncos again in a week's time or the Penrith Panthers. While Bellamy and Kevvie Walters opted to rest a number of players during the final regular season game, Panthers coach Ivan Cleary doesn't have the same mindset this year.
"There's something about finishing at the top that you should be proud of," he said. "(But) I don't like to change things halfway through a week. It hasn't changed anything for us."
The While the Cowboys need a win to have any chance of finishing 8th in the ladder, Cleary was confident they would be facing a better Penrith side to the one handily beaten by Parramatta last week. "It was out of character," Cleary said of the 32-18 loss.
"I don't think we were prepared well enough and that's on me, for a number of reasons. I think we'll be much better tomorrow. We're still preparing to be at our best when the pressure's on. I don't think we're there yet."
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