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This time last year and few people knew who Ryan Papenhuyzen was let alone how lightning quick he could be when it came to breaking the line and darting off downfield.

In his debut NRL season he ran for nearly 3000 metres in 22 games, made 69 tackle breaks and 17 line breaks and scored nine tries.

Those kinds of figures have put Papenhuyzen firmly in the public eye, even if people still have trouble spelling his surname.

Feeding off the back of that came the call-up to Mal Meninga's World Nines side and then Neil Henry's Junior Kangaroos team.

What a year. But it is central to why Melbourne Storm wanted to extend the 21-year-old's time at AAMI Park.

On Thursday, despite having a year to go on his current deal, it was announced he would be staying until the end of 2022.

Now comes the hard part. Papenhuyzen has a reputation to live up to.

Ryan Papenhuyzen in action for Australia's World Cup 9s team.
Ryan Papenhuyzen in action for Australia's World Cup 9s team. ©Nathan Hopkins/NRL Photos

"You hit the nail on the head. That's the benchmark now and I have to build from there," he told

"I can't rest on my past. I can't be complacent that I've reached certain heights already. I know people will expect to see more in 2020 of what they saw in 2019.

"I also know teams and opposition coaches have worked me out a bit more.

"That doesn't mean I'm changing things too much around what I do. But I do want to keep improving, keep defences guessing."

Papenhuyzen looks certain to be doing that with the No.1 on his back. From the 22 games played last season, 13 were off the bench. He started one match at No.6.

However, in eight games he started at fullback he scored in five of them.  

The Storm first approached Papenhuyzen mid-season about a contract extension. But things got busy for the former NSW under 16s and 18s player with the end-of-year rep games.

"So when all that was over I wanted time to reflect a bit on the season and what I wanted to do next," he said. "That's why it took up time but now we've spoken and sorted things out."

One of Papenhuyzen's reflections was that he definitely wanted to make fullback his spot.

"Absolutely I'd love to make that my own position. But the way they do things here is that you can't be complacent about your position in the team because there's always someone coming through pushing for a spot as well," he said.

"But Craig [Bellamy] has let me know that fullback is something he wants me to put my best efforts into."

It's like a mouse to cheese where Papenhuyzen and playing No.1 are concerned.

"The freedom to roam, the freedom to get the ball in my hands as often as possible. I get to link with the halves and hooker, and drop into the backline. I have such good teammates around me that they make my job a lot easier," he said.

"The fullback position has evolved so much in the modern game and will probably change again.

"It's a position you have to keep working hard every day to stay up with all that it requires. So I like that challenge of being a part of all that."

Ryan Papenhuyzen in focus

The Storm's former champion in Billy Slater is a central part of redefining how fullbacks play in the NRL these days. He did such a good job of it they named a stand after him at AAMI Park.

Slater was on hand in 2019 – his first year of retirement – to impart some wisdom to Jahrome Hughes and Papaenhuyzen when it came to the art of being a No.1.  

"His advice to me was 'Don't try to be me; be you. You're good enough to play there so play your own game'." Papenhuyzen said.

"I know Jahrome felt the same way as me. We never found it daunting to follow in Billy's shoes. He made that very clear that we had our own strengths and to keep working at those to make the most of those opportunities on the field."

Those abilities were the springboard Papenhuyzen used to jump from the shadows into the spotlight in 2019.

"I can't really believe how it all panned out. I know it was my best season yet and I'm very glad it was in the NRL," he said.

"And as for all the things I did, I have to thank a lot of my teammates for that. I play with some very talented people."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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