On Saturday evening, Papenhuyzen emerged from an arduous convalescence, marked by a shattered kneecap, donning his No.1 jersey once again for the Sunshine Coast Falcons in the exhilarating pit of the Queensland Cup.
Given Papenhuyzen’s star-studded resume, organisers and supporters at Sunshine Coast Stadium greeted him with an overwhelming surge of excitement, anticipating the local turnout to triple for the match.
Papenhuyzen’s on-field contributions encompassed a tireless first-half execution, a dynamic presence at the rear, a few stints at decoy halfback, toe-curling attempts at scoring, and effortlessly assuming the mantle of the primary goal-kicker.
More significantly, however, it was simply the sight of Papenhuyzen relishing the field, grinning, on the move without hindrance, and immersing himself in the game that struck a chord amongst spectators. His mouthguard emblazoned with “Foxy Cleopatra”, the moniker of a racehorse he part-owns, typified his joie-de-vivre.
Storm colleagues distilled their support into action, taking the trip to watch Papenhuyzen, with Christian Welch, Harry Grant, Nelson Asofa-Solomona, Tui Kamikamica, Josh King, Trent Loiero and Troy Pezet, as well as Todd Lowrie from the coaching staff, all present at the match.
Craig Bellamy, the Storm coach, was seething at missing the event, confessing to the masthead, “I forgot we had the weekend off. That’s how f…ing dumb I am. I’ll send him a text. I’ll watch it somewhere and speak to him after the game”.
He added, “I just want to see him get through unscathed. There’s no pressure on him. He just has to get confidence in what he’s doing. He’s been out a long time, and that’s not easy to do. All the scans say he’s OK, but until you get out there and get tackled and makes tackles, we won’t really know.”
Following Papenhuyzen’s successful return, plans have been made for him to partake in at least another game of the Queensland Cup next weekend. Considering the bye weekend for Easts Tigers, another feeder club for Storm, heading back to the Falcons seemed the optimal move. This would allow Papenhuyzen to consolidate team chemistry and maintain a steady routine.
Bellamy hinted that if Papenhuyzen’s progression to the NRL were to transpire this season, his most likely role would be integral yet non-starting. He added, “If everything goes well and we think he can add some value to the NRL team, that’s the most likely option.” He further emphasised that playmaker Nick Meaney’s versatility could provide room for both him and Papenhuyzen in the squad.
Papenhuyzen’s challenging recovery journey took him to the US where he sought the expertise of reconditioning guru, Bill Knowles. This rehabilitation followed a highly-publicised injury against Canberra in last year’s round 18 match.
Witnessing an exceptional offensive talent like Papenhuyzen, a Wests Tigers junior, back on the field was a sight to behold. Especially given that, owing to his burgeoning portfolio of off-field sponsorships, he was earmarked to become the game’s first $2m player before his unfortunate knee injury.
Papenhuyzen’s spot was filled by the promising Sua Fa’alogo, a player within the Storm system. Fa’alogo impressed the crowd with a first-half double at left wing, demonstrating that he is indeed one to watch in the future.