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'Earn the position': Bellamy still  toying with Hynes, Papenhuyzen combo

Craig Bellamy says Ryan Papenhuyzen will have to "earn his position" each and every week as Brandon Smith's versatility gives Melbourne time to work out the best on-field combination between Papehuyzen and upstart utility Nicho Hynes.

Melbourne's middling form of recent weeks has coincided with the juggle between the two No.1s, prompting the likes of respected analysist Matty Johns to suggest starting Hynes ahead of Papenhuyzen.

It's a scenario on paper that begs belief given Papenhuyzen's Clive Churchill medal-winning form to finish 2020 and start 2021.

But since returning from a lengthy concussion lay-off in which Hynes emerged as one of the NRL's best ballplayers, Papenhuyzen has struggled to match his involvements and influence at the start of the season.

The 23-year-old will start at fullback this week against Cronulla this week again with Hynes in the halves as Cameron Munster is rested.

Smith's ability to switch between dummy-half duties and the middle gives Bellamy the 'luxury' to carry Hynes or Papenhuyzen on the bench alongside hooker Harry Grant.

But a full-strength week one finals line-up poses a selection query Bellamy is loath to entertain – publicly at least – before he needs to.

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Asked if Papenhuyzen is a lock for the fullback role for the rest of the year on Thursday, Bellamy said: "If we think he's the best option we will do that.

"But if we don't, everyone's got to earn their position in the team."

Bellamy was more forthright on how he balances his hooking stocks given Smith's success in switching to the middle around the 20-minute mark when Grant is given game time.

"Having Harry out there and on the bench is a luxury obviously," Bellamy said when pressed on carrying two smaller bodies on his bench.

"When [Grant] comes on Brandon changes position. Do you want to put a big body on or do want to leave Brandon there? I'm going for Brandon."

Since being restored to the No.1 two weeks ago, Papenhuyzen's 34 touches per game against the Titans and Eels are well off the 46.8 he was clocking before his round 10 concussion.

Hynes meanwhile has seen his involvements halved in line with his reduced minutes aside from when he started at halfback against the Gold Coast.

In the same fashion, Hynes has registered one try assist, two line breaks and three line-break assists in six games since Papenhuyzen's return in round 19 – significant drop-offs on his superb form when deputising at the back.

Storm captain Dale Finucane insists Papenhuyzen can rediscover top form leading into the finals, and says an eventual on-field Papenhuyzen-Hynes combination has serious potential given their contrasting strengths.

"Paps missed 10 games I think it was throughout the year," Finucane said.

"To be able to come back and slot straight in's going to be difficult to do.

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"I think two games ago he found his feet in terms of starting and playing good minutes for us and really finding that cohesion in the spine.

"I expect that'll be the same and continue to grow getting back to how well Paps was playing earlier in the year.

"They've both different strengths. Paps' strength is his running game, he's developed his passing over the last year.

"Nicho's obviously got a lot of great ball-playing ability as well as his strength.

"We're lucky that we've got those two different players because they bring two different strengths to our side.

"We'll find that cohesion with them both in our side over the next couple of weeks."

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