James Tedesco has been aware of Ryan Papenhuyzen’s talent since the pair trained together at Wests Tigers but he credits the influence of Billy Slater for making him his greatest fullback rival.
Papenhuyzen was a member of Wests Tigers under 20 team in 2016 and spent time training with the NRL squad but he left to get out of Tedesco’s shadow after being identified by then then-Storm recruiter Dane Campbell.
Tedesco joined the Sydney Roosters a year later and has since become the No.1 fullback in the game but many consider Papenhuyzen to now be close behind.
The 22-year-old, who scored four tries in 11 minutes against Brisbane two weeks ago, won the Clive Churchill Medal as man-of-the-match in last year’s grand final.
Many expect him to make his Origin debut this year, probably in the No.14 interchange role for the Blues, and Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy added fuel to the debate about the game’s best fullback when he said recently that the Storm wouldn’t swap Papenhuyzen for anyone.
Storm v Roosters - Round 6
However, the rivalry between Tedesco and Papenhuyzen doesn’t compare to that which existed between Slater and Jarryd Hayne when they were the leading fullbacks a decade ago, with Hayne headbutting Slater while playing for Parramatta and the latter being sin-binned for retaliating.
Tedesco said he'd watched Papenhuyzen’s development since the Storm fullback was just 18 and praised Slater and Bellamy for his dramatic rise.
"He was at the Tigers when I was there. He only trained in a couple of sessions, he was pretty young but he was coming through," Papenhuyzen said on the eve of their duel at AAMI Park on Friday night.
"He was a gun, he was very fast. I think he has just developed down there with Billy. That is a massive help for him and he has turned into a classy fullback.
"He was always fast and talented but I think the Melbourne structures and Billy have been a big help for him."
Bellamy was certain Tedesco would retain the NSW fullback role this year and said Papenhuyzen wouldn’t be trying to prove a point when they meet on Friday night.
"He has got a role to play in our team, he knows what that is," Bellamy said on Thursday.
"We don’t expect him to do some of the things that Teddy does but we do expect him to the things that Tedesco does that he does well. At the end of the day, we just want him to play his role but playing his role the best he can.
"Tedesco has been a wonderful layer for a long period of time and he still is. He is as much involved in the game as he has ever been this year so I don’t think anyone is going to drop him out of the NSW side.
Every try from Round 5
"I think Paps’ best chance is on the bench and I think he would do a really good job there."
Tedesco said the return of ball-playing lock Victor Radley had enabled him to avoid having to change his playing style after halfback Luke Keary’s season-ending knee injury.
Teenage halfback Sam Walker has stepped into the void and last week steered the Roosters home against Cronulla in just his second NRL appearance.
"It obviously sucks not having Keary there because he’s our man but Sammy has stepped up and we’ve got Rads back so I feel like it is all flowing pretty well at the moment," Tedesco said.
"I think having Rads there has made it easy for me. We are really close mates and we work on combos all the time and it is only going to get better."
NRL Magic Round Brisbane 1-Day & 3-Day Passes are now on sale with eight massive games across round 10 at Suncorp Stadium this May. With the league's best players all heading to Brisbane, you'd hate to miss it! Tickets at NRL.com/Tickets