Billy Slater's huge Panthers admission as Ryan Papenhuyzen leaves NRL world in awe

The NRL legend couldn't believe what he was watching between the Storm and the Panthers.

Billy Slater has claimed he has never seen so many tired players on an NRL field in the Storm's gritty 8-0 win over the Panthers with Ryan Papenhuyzen making a stunning return. Craig Bellamy extended his streak of opening NRL round wins to 22 years after the Storm outmuscled the reigning champions in a brutal clash at AAMI Park on Friday night.

Nathan Cleary failed to help his team score for the first time in his career as the Panthers were held to zero for the first time since round 22 in 2022. The Panthers have now gone 120 minutes of rugby league without scoring after being held to zero in the second half against Wigan in the World Club Challenge.

Ryan Papenhuyzen runs and Billy Slater during commentary.
Billy Slater (pictured right) couldn't believe how tired the players were in the first match between the Storm and the Panthers with Ryan Papenhuyzen (pictuerd left) making a stunning return. (Getty Images)

The Panthers were involved in another gruelling match against Wigan only two weeks ago. And against a fresh Storm team in their first hit out, NRL legend Slater felt the opening game of the season left both teams out on their feet. "I have never seen 34 more tired players in my whole life," Slater said during commentary for Channel Nine.

"Liam Martin just running down the field looked like... Looked like he had glass in his shoes. This is incredible, this performance from both teams." And it was Slater's friend who managed to bring that awe inspiring grit to the team that embodied Melbourne's performance.

Papenhuyzen has only played three NRL games and six rugby league matches since breaking his knee cap in July 2022 against the Canberra Raiders. Upon his return last year, Papenhuyzen dislocated his ankle in September.

And Papenhuyzen has proved his injuries are behind him after a gutsy and all-action performance against Penrith on Friday night having run for 118 metres and made two tackle breaks. But more importnanty, Papenhuzyen was strong under the high-ball and in defence. Coach Bellamy was full of praise for the n26-year-old with the fullback fronting up to every challenge in the 8-0 win.

“It was great to see Paps play with the confidence that he did tonight, he didn’t shirk at anything,” Bellamy said. And Papenhuyzen admitted the match was a 'dog fight' and the Storm were confident of grinding it out after the Panthers' trip to the UK only two weeks ago.

Ryan Papenhuyzen celebrates.
Ryan Papenhuyzen (pictured) celebrates after a gritty Storm win. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

"It's a good feeling," Papenhuyzen told Channel Nine after the match. "Just a really solid dogfight sort of game, I think. We knew it was going to be that way. [Penrith are] coming off a long trip from the World Club Challenge. I'm sure there will be a few sore legs on the Penrith side.

"We thought if we could stick with them, it doesn't have to be the prettiest footy. They have had a tough pre-season. Our loads have been up on every other pre-season. We had the confidence we could get through the game and did the job."

Fans praise Ryan Papenhuyzen on NRL return

Papenhuyzen was inspiring in his return to the game. Harry Grant is the captain of the Storm, but 26-year-old Papenhuyzen led by example during his epic return to the top of the game.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy remained grounded after the victory and doubled down on Slater's view that the players were exhausted after the 80 minutes. "I don't think we played that well but we were really gutsy," Bellamy said.

"We had a lot of a lot of tackles to be made in our 20 metre area and we were out on our feet there a few times, but we just kept finding a way to to keep turning up so that was the really pleasing part."

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