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'It’s sentimental': Falcons prepare for Papenhuyzen's return

When Ryan Papenhuyzen runs onto the field at Sunshine Coast Stadium this Saturday, it will be 384 days since he last played rugby league. And 1561 days since he last donned a Sunshine Coast Falcons jersey.

It is a long-awaited return – one that people at all levels of the game have been hoping for since the Melbourne Storm sensation suffered a heartbreaking and horrific kneecap fracture last July.

And the first step on his journey back to the NRL will come with the Falcons, where he played two seasons of Hostplus Cup back in 2018 and 2019.

Papenhuyzen told the Melbourne Storm earlier this week that playing in this Saturday’s clash against the Ipswich Jets is a small win that he will celebrate, even if the reality of his return hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

And for the Falcons, it is just as exciting to see their former player make his comeback through their club.

Coach Brad Henderson said they only found out after lunch on Tuesday that they would have Papenhuyzen’s services for the must-win match against the Jets.

As the 10th-placed Falcons fight to make the top eight, Henderson said there would be no pressure on Papenhuyzen and they knew what this match meant to him on a bigger scale.

“It’s good that we can provide that opportunity for Paps,” Henderson said.

“We all know it’s a matter of time until he gets back to where he needs to be level-wise.

“If he can come here, get some reps in, makes his tackles and run the footy, he’ll be one step closer to the inevitable.

“I don’t want to pile any pressure on Ryan at all. The expectations are he will get out of it what he needs but there’s no pressure from us as a club.

“It’s sentimental he can come back here and play a game for us… It’s pretty exciting.”

It is also the final home game of the year for the Falcons at Sunshine Coast Stadium, with the game to also be shown live and exclusively on

Sunshine Coast are hopeful of drawing a large crowd for the occasion and Henderson said he had definitely noticed the increased interest in Saturday’s game.

“My phone’s never rung so hot as it has over the last couple of days,” he said.

“Even when I’ve been out and about, getting a coffee, people were asking all the time if it was true.

“It’s been a long build up for no one more than Paps and it’s great that he’s confident that he’s ready to play again.

“If everyone can be patient for him, it’s only a matter of time he’s at the level he wants to be at.”

Ryan Papenhuyzen with the Falcons in 2019.
Ryan Papenhuyzen with the Falcons in 2019.

While Henderson has only met Papenhuyzen a few times at pre-season camps in Geelong, Falcons CEO Chris Flannery was at the club back when the 25-year-old last played for the Sunshine Coast.

He said the young gun came to them with a small physique and plenty to learn ahead of his eventual NRL debut in 2019, but it was clear the then teen had the talent needed for a big future.

“From our point of view, it’s fantastic to see Paps come back here, especially for his return,” Flannery said.

“First and foremost, we all hope he gets through the game safely and can do what he needs to do to get him back to the NRL.

“But it’s also great to see him return to the club. He was a great player back then and just a wonderful guy to have around the club.

“Even back then the first thing that I noticed was his dedication and his professionalism as a player.

“He was a student of the game and he still is now. You could tell that once we picked him from the airport and brought him into Sunshine Coast Stadium, he was really focused on what he needed to do to make that next step up to the NRL.

“He’s not a huge body Paps… but once he got on that field, you could see he was a quality player. Once he got to the NRL, he took his opportunity and we’ve seen how that’s played out.”

The match between the Sunshine Coast Falcons and Ipswich Jets will kick off at 5pm at Sunshine Coast Stadium.

Catch all the Hostplus Cup action live by subscribing at

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