As Ryan Papenhuyzen, the star of the Storm, readies himself to return to rugby league after more than a year on the bench because of a shattered patella, tension is high. The gravity of Papenhuyzen’s injuries and his traumatic rehabilitation journey cannot be overstated, but one person understands — James Tedesco, Roosters captain, who suffered similarly while competing against the Raiders nine years ago.
Tedesco’s own set back, a ruined debut and two lost seasons due to an ACL tear, only exacerbated by a kneecap fracture just fifteen seconds into a later game. Not quite as severe as Papenhuyzen’s, but a similarly cruel blow nonetheless. Now, Papenhuyzen tests the water for his comeback through the Queensland Cup, aiming for an NRL return in the finals season.
The extent of their injuries, Tedesco reflected, is often unexpected. “It’s not a traditional injury,” he commented, “it’s not a muscle, ligament or tissue. It’s a bone, and when confidence in that is lost, it takes an incredible toll.” For rugby players who depend heavily on speed, agility, and rapid movement, such an injury can be difficult to overcome.
Recounting his own experience, Tedesco shared, “I once thought it was just a knee cork until I noticed the dent in my knee, unable to bend. The following pain was immense, keeping my knee straight for a few months. Much like the journey with my ACL, it required a significant build-up of leg strength and confidence.”
Papenhuyzen and Tedesco share similar attributes beyond their parallel injuries, with incredible speed and coinciding journeys at the Wests Tigers before they took different career paths. Tedesco has duly made the effort to share some of his own recovery wisdom with the Storm star.
“I sent him several messages to check on his progress and shared my advice on exercises to strengthen the quadriceps. I hadn’t spoken to him recently but we had communicated adequately during his most challenging times,” Tedesco added.
Post-injury, Tedesco had an impressive 2015 campaign that led him to become the world’s top fullback. However, Papenhuyzen and the Storm are being careful not to rush his comeback following a gruelling year. With a new sense of valuing each victory along the way, Papenhuyzen prepares for his return with mixed feelings.
“Much hasn’t settled in yet,” he admitted, “so I’m going through the practice week like it’s any other match. It’s been a mix of highs, lows and hold-ups along the way, maybe a bit longer than I anticipated, but I think the timing feels right now.”
Papenhuyzen expressed his gratitude to his supporters and emphasised that his return marks a significant milestone for his career. Remaining grounded, he added, “there’s still work to be done to meet my targets, especially returning to the NRL, but for now, this is indeed a small victory deserving some celebration.”