You could forgive Ryan Papenhuyzen for being dirty on the world after injuries and a bout of COVID robbed him of a potential Origin debut and sidelined him for five NRL matches.
After starting the season in a blaze of glory with 12 tries in nine games, the Storm’s No.1 gun missed heavyweight clashes against the Panthers, Cowboys, Sea Eagles and Roosters due to knee and hamstring issues.
Just as he was about to return for the round 15 game against the Broncos, a positive COVID test set him back another week, with his comeback finally arriving in last Thursday’s 36-30 loss to Manly.
Having been right in the frame for a Blues debut after his sizzling start to the year, the 24-year-old has resigned himself to the fact that he’ll have to wait another 12 months to make that dream a reality.
“It would obviously be a massive honour to play for the Blues but it’s not a priority of mine right now,” Papenhuyzen said after blowing out the cobwebs at 4 Pines Park on Thursday.
“I was probably more focused on making sure I’m right and coming back so I can get a good run to the finals.
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“As long as the (NSW) boys are winning it’s an easy week at training, it keeps those [Maroons] boys quiet. I just like seeing the boys win and if I’m a part of that squad that would be great but I don’t put too much pressure on myself to be part of that.
“I spoke to Freddy [Fittler] when I first got injured and he asked how I was going but he’s got bigger things to focus on now and it’s good that it’s 1-all and hopefully they can come home with the chocolates in Brisbane.”
Rather than bemoan his bad luck, Papenhuyzen describes the COVID case as ‘a bit of a blessing’, as it forced him to take another week to fully recover from his injuries.
“I was probably touch-and-go for the Broncos game [in round 15] and knowing myself I probably would’ve wanted to play but COVID just brought me that extra week,” he said.
“I ran it that week and I was probably still a bit proppy but sort of confident that when I got to the game I’d be right. But a couple of days before the game I got Covid and that brought me more time.
“It was probably one of those injuries where you need that week to make sure it’s all good.
“The first two days [with COVID] were rough and I’ve still got a bit of a cold now but other than that I’m sweet, the lungs are all good.”
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After starting slowly and then finding his feet late against Manly, Papenhuyzen turns his focus to the in-form Sharks this Thursday and ensuring the Storm grab an all important top-two finish.
The loss left Craig Bellamy’s men on 24 competition points, three games behind tearaway leaders Penrith, who will bank another two points from the bye in round 17.
The Cowboys are equal with Melbourne on 24 points and have a bye to come while the Sharks are hot on their heels with 22 points.
“I honestly felt like we couldn’t get anything going, we ran our game plan but we didn’t have any momentum to run it,” Papenhuyzen said of the Manly loss.
“You could see at the back end that we can put on points but it’s about stripping it back, especially me stripping it back and focusing on my game and what I can do a little bit better.
“It was a weird one, I felt really confident coming in but it was just one of those games that didn’t go down how I thought.
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“I feel like I was a big reason as to why we didn’t play very well. I’ll go back and review it and learn from it. Those sorts of games are a good kick up the bum for the back end of the year.
“I guess there was a bit of rust, but I don’t really like that word, I feel like it’s a bit of an excuse.
“I came back and had a full week at training and we trained really well. It’s no excuse that all our rep boys came back late in the week because Manly probably had just as many.
“Backing up from rep games has always been a badge of honour at the Storm, it’s been the theme for a few years, ever since Smithy [Cameron Smith], Coops [Cooper Cronk] and Slats [Billy Slater] were here they really wanted to play and back up and that fed down to the group now.
“It’s a pretty tough effort to play 80 mins of Origin and Test footy and come back here and play 80 mins as well, it’s a big ask but the boys like to do it and it’s pretty inspiring.”