Gold Coast Titans captain Tino Fa’asuamaleaui is expecting to see his former Storm teammate Ryan Papenhuyzen suit up for Melbourne when the two sides face off in Round 26 at AAMI Park this Saturday.
Papenhuyzen continues to make solid progress in his return from a knee injury that had him out of the game for more than a year and played in his third straight game in the Hostplus Cup on Saturday, getting through 80 minutes as the Sunshine Coast Falcons put an end to the season of Tweed Seagulls to book their place in the finals.
“I think it's very good to see him back, he's definitely worked so hard and I can see that he's done that through his Instagram and his socials, (have followed) his progress through it all,” Fa’asuamaleaui told NRL.com.
“I'm glad that he's back playing footy and it would be good to go against him again.
“I'm just happy that he's back playing footy and it's good to see a mate that's not injured and fought their way back.”
Papenhuyzen – who kicked four conversions and a field goal in the Sunshine Coast's 37-12 win – was a touch-and-go prospect to play in the match after experiencing soreness earlier in the week, with Storm coach Craig Bellamy reiterating that there was no expectation or solid timeframe being placed on the star fullback's to return to the NRL.
“I have just seen a bit of a report that said he got through the 80 minutes,” Bellamy said after Melbourne’s win against the Dragons when asked about Papenhuyzen’s performance.
“He pulled up a little bit sore during the week from a training session and he didn’t do the last couple of sessions of the week, so we didn’t think he’d play this weekend, but he went up there and did the captain’s run and he came through okay ... he got 80 minutes again, so we’ll see where we are with him next week.
“We’ll have a bit of a look at his actions on the field and go from there.
“But as I said ... we are not expecting anything of him this year, if it does happen, great, but we’ll just see how he went (today), we’ll see how he’s feeling mentally and physically and then we go from there.”
Papenhuyzen himself has said he was looking towards this week’s match as his potential return, telling Nine’s Wide World of Sports that “back here at AAMI Park against the Titans is probably my return game”.
Melbourne captain Christian Welch, who has had his fair share of experience in returning from long-term injuries, said he would be “proud” to see his friend return to the NRL, but like Bellamy, said there was no pressure on him to come back, with fill-in fullback Nick Meaney displaying outstanding form through the season.
“It’s really exciting, as a player, I have had some major injuries as well, I feel how he’s going, he’s had a really tough time and it’s been a really tough mental journey and physical journey for him, so I would be proud just as a mate and a good friend and I would be so happy for him if he got back and played,” Welch said.
“But Paps, he’s not really defined by football, so I’m sure he’s trying to get back and play, but if he doesn’t get back, he doesn’t get back; he’s still a great person to have in our club and probably, the biggest sign of his character is how involved he’s been all year.
“It’s exciting to potentially have him back, but as I said, Nick Meaney has been doing a fantastic job.”
With or without Papenhuyzen in the line-up, Fa’asuamaleaui said he was looking forward to playing against his old team in Melbourne with the Titans playing for pride.
“They're a very good side and the top four side and obviously, coming from there, you always want to show what they missed out on, I guess,” Fa’asuamaleaui said.
“I'm just going to go out there and play footy and (we will) do the best that we can as a team and finish this year strong and have a bit of pride in this jersey.
“It's going to be exciting; it always is and there's always a few niggles but, you know, that's footy and I love it.”
Match: Storm v Titans
Round 26 -
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne