The mental toll of dealing with long-term injuries is no easy feat.
To take on a role of mentor and leader to teammates that have taken your place on the park is doubly difficult.
Melbourne Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen has managed to do so for the past two seasons as he worked his way back from serious knee and ankle injuries – something that his teammates have celebrated.
The 25-year-old said that his journey over the last 18 months was one of “massive self-discovery and self-journey”.
“Yeah, there’s been a lot of book reading, a lot of psychology meetings, a lot of everything,” Papenhuyzen explained.
“I feel like if you’re clear in life, you’re going to be clear in your workplace, and you’re actually going to be able to build relationships and work with those people around you more effectively.
"While you’re doing it, it’s hard to understand, but now I’ve been through that process I can look back and to be honest, that’s genuinely helped me a lot.”
Papenhuyzen back in his happy place
Papenhuyzen was speaking while a backdrop of fans and community members gathered in the background.
They were attempting to hit the crossbar from a tee for a chance to win $10,000, an event set up by the Storm to celebrate round one tickets going on sale.
Before he made his way over to the press conference, he was seen giving some pointers to the hopeful punters.
“It’s harder than you think!” he stressed to the media with a laugh.
The 2020 Clive Churchill medallist was reflective about his time spent away from the game. After shattering his kneecap in 2022, he was ruled out of NRL action for 405 days – only to have his season end three games later due to a broken ankle.
He has twice worked with renowned physio Bill Knowles in the United States to assist his physical recovery, but returning from a long-term injury requires a mental fortitude as well.
“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot how to go about injuries, I’ve learned a lot how to deal with people, how to deal with myself,” he said on Friday morning.
“While I’ve been out of the game physically, I think mentally I’ve grown.
"As a leader in the club too I feel like I’m in a good spot, to help out people in the position I was in, and guys who are coming through that feel like they need a bit of help. I feel really clear in my mind.”
Blore: 'I really want to give back to the club'
It is that position as a leader that teammates have lauded. He not only provides advice to fans trying to win a cheeky $10,000 – he has been a mentor for those on the pitch as well.
“The amount of respect I have for him for his attitude with how he dealt with those two injuries in the last two years, and even, there was his head knock injury in 2021,” Tyran Wishart told NRL.com.
“It’s a lot of time on the sidelines and the professionalism he showed, and the resilience, that stuff’s contagious and my respect for him is so high in that sense. The way he showed himself around the club, he’s a great club man as well.”
The club man tag is apparent in the way that Papenhuyzen goes about talking up his teammates – in particular, 20-year-old Sualauvi Fa’alogo.
“It’s between me and Sua at the moment,” he said, when discussing his potential round one return at fullback.
“He’s been running around on the wing, he’s been asking me for help… it’s a healthy competition I’d say and if he gets his go, I’m sure he’ll thrive in that environment.”
Jonah Pezet – another young player developing through the squad over the last couple of seasons – emphasised Papenhuyzen’s role as a mentor within the club.
“He’s taken me and Sua under his wing a lot,” he explained to NRL.com. “Obviously, Sua is probably his position a bit more, but the way he mentors him and shows him stuff is crazy.”
“It’s great for us as a club… I think that’s what this club is about. Leaving this jersey in a better place than what it was when you got here.”
Papenhuyzen’s potential return to the footy field in round one is a great story.
However, as much as his return on the pitch will positively impact the team, he has been having that positive impact for months in ways less obvious to the public. That is a fantastic story as well.