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Big-hearted baby Bunny Gray gets big wraps from Paps

Two of the lightest players in the NRL will face off this week, with Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen saying Rabbitohs rookie Jye Gray reminds him of himself when he was starting out.

Papenhuyzen – listed at 181cm is taller than Gray, who is 170cm and 78kgs – but at only 80kgs, knows the challenges presented to smaller-statured players to make it to the top grade after overcoming numerous injuries in his career.

“I remember my manager messaged me a couple of years ago saying, ‘keep an eye on this Jye Gray kid, he’s quite good’. I watched his junior Origin game a couple of years ago too,” Papenhuyzen told

“He reminds me of myself when I first started. He’s not the biggest bloke, but he has a crack. He’s a breath of fresh air to that Souths side, I think he’s got a long career in the NRL ahead.

Jye Gray in his debut for the Rabbitohs.
Jye Gray in his debut for the Rabbitohs. ©Grant Trouville / NRL Images

"He’s a fair footy player, we’ll probably have to treat him like Reece Walsh, he’s a fair footy player and we’ll do a job.

“He has a big career ahead of him, but hopefully he has a quiet game against us.

“[As a smaller player] you’re going to get smacked, you’re going to have a target on your back, but if you keep turning up and playing tough, that inspires your teammates around you. That’s my advice to him."

Ryan Papenhuyzen in his debut season in 2019 for the Storm.
Ryan Papenhuyzen in his debut season in 2019 for the Storm. ©NRL Images

Coming up in the junior ranks in Queensland, Gray also played five-eighth, claiming player of the year honours in 2022 after helping lead the Souths Logan Magpies to the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup Under 18 title.

His coach at the time Karmichael Hunt has had the experience of being a boom rookie fullback and said he was really happy to see the former Gold Coast junior make a successful debut.

“He had a really solid debut, so I am really happy for him,” Hunt said.

“He doesn’t say too many words, but he’s definitely confident in his ability, he knows his game and he knows where he needs to be and where his touches should come for him to play his best footy.

“I am just really pleased that he was able to go out there and have a good game.

“As a coach, if you have got someone making their debut and they give you that performance, you give him a big pat on the back for that.”

Jye Gray was a star five-eighth for his title winning Under 18 Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup team in 2022.
Jye Gray was a star five-eighth for his title winning Under 18 Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup team in 2022. ©QRL Images

With his coveted debut out of the way, Hunt also had some advice for Gray to make the most of the opportunity he has to make his mark, with regular South Sydney fullback Latrell Mitchell still serving out his suspension.

“I just think he needs to worry about what he’s got ahead of him,” Hunt said.

“Whatever happens in a few weeks’ time, whenever Latrell is back, happens – he just needs to live in the moment and worry about what’s in front of him and executing.

“The opposition team will do a bit of homework on him and go through some footage and I just think if anything, he shouldn’t feel like there’s any pressure on him.

Jack Wighton embraces Jye Gray following his debut.
Jack Wighton embraces Jye Gray following his debut. ©Anthony Kourembanas / NRL Images

“He’s got his dream, to make his debut and do a really good job; and now he just gets to go out and build on it.

“The Rabbitohs boys, from what I saw after the game were really happy with him, you saw Jack Wighton go up to him and say a few words and give him a hug, so he’s obviously a really loved character in that change room.

“They were all happy for him and I just think he’s going to go up another gear this week.”

After enjoying a bye in Round 7, the Rabbitohs have made a number of changes for this week's game, with Damien Cook recalled from NSW Cup to start at hooker and Peter Mamouzelos moving to the bench.

Jai Arrow is named to return from a shoulder injury in his first game since featuring in Las Vegas in a massive boost for the Rabbitohs, while skipper Cameron Murray has completed the concussion protocols and takes his place at lock.

The loss of Tevita Tatola to a foot injury brings Shaquai Mitchell into the starting side while Jacob Gagai comes in on the wing for Tyrone Munro (collarbone).

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