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Ryan Papenhuyzen made a stunning return for the Storm in the opening match of the NRL Pre-season Challenge but the Bulldogs finished too strong to win 24-12.

Papenhuyzen's career was in the balance after he suffered a sickening leg injury in last September's preliminary final loss to Brisbane just three matches into his return from a 14-month lay-off with a fractured kneecap.

However, the star fullback left no doubt that he would have a significant impact on Melbourne's fortunes this season after creating a try for winger Dean Ieremia and scoring one himself in a spectacular 40-minute stint.     

The Bulldogs dominated the first half in virtually area of the game but trailed 12-10 at the interval after Papenhuyzen raced through to catch a kick from a rehearsed scrum move.

Papenhuyzen impresses in return

Canterbury centre Eli Clark opened the scoring in just the fifth minute after Reed Mahoney shuffled across field from dummy half to put the rookie over untouched following a penalty near the Storm line against prop Aaron Pene.

Dean Ieremia responded for the Storm in the 13th minute after Papenhuyzen chimed into the backline to create space for his right winger, who missed all of last season due to a knee injury. 

Dean Ieremia Try

Bulldogs winger Blake Wilson regained the lead for the home side in the 24th minute when he stood up Melbourne five-eighth Keagan Russell-Smith after picking up loose ball to score.

With halves Drew Hutchison and Matt Burton playing both sides of the ruck, Blake Taaffe adding spark from the back and Jaeman Salmon performing the role of ball playing lock, the Bulldogs constantly threatened in attack. 

However, the Storm's defence kept them in the game, with Ieremia stopping Bronson Xerri short of the tryline, Tuipulotu Katoa knocking down a ball to stop another attack and Sam Hughes losing possession as he reached out to score.

Papenhuyzen then put the visitors ahead at the break after racing through to regather a perfectly placed Pezet kick from a rehearsed scrum-base move and score as the halftime siren sounded. 

Xerri also scored a try in his first match after serving a four year doping ban and threw the final pass for winger Jeral Skelton to score as the Bulldogs finished too strong for Melbourne.

The Bulldogs fielded the nucleus of last year's Jersey Flegg winning backline in the second half and halves Bailey Hayward and Joseph O'Neill combined with fullback Joash Papalii to put winger Jonathan Sua over in the 73rd minute.

Jonathan Sua Try

Match snapshot

  • Bulldogs captain Reed Mahoney was placed on report for a 12th minute tackle on rookie Storm five-eighth Keagan Russell-Smith.
  • Off-season recruits Blake Taaffe, Drew Hutchison, Jaeman Salmon and Poasa Faamausili made their first appearances in a Canterbury jersey.
  • Storm 2021 rookie of the year Dean Ieremia, one of just four Victorians to play NRL for the club, made a successful return after rupturing an ACL in last year's Pre-season Challenge.

Bronson Xerri Try

  • Ryan Papenhuyzen played the first half only, while Bulldogs stars Matt Burton, Drew Hutchison, Blake Taaffe and Jaeman Salmon were replaced soon after the interval.
  • Bulldogs centre Bronson Xerri carried the ball for 101 metres in the first half and finished with a game high 161m.
  • The Bulldogs picked up two bonus points - one for scoring five tries and one for having five line breaks.

Play of the game

"I just looked at the clock and there wasn't long left so I thought we might as well try our luck. Pez put the ball on a dime and I had to finish it off. He is a very talented kid": Ryan Papenhuyzen. 

Ryan Papenhuyzen Try

What they said

"Our defence was a massive talking point before the game. We know it wins games. Bronson's carries out of yardage to get us on the front foot, I thought he was great tonight. He has been training really hard and is in great shape so it is good to see him back. Also, Taaffe out the back, his speed is electric and he has been great for us on the edge." - Bulldogs five-eighth Matt Burton. 

Burton impressed with new recruits

"At half-time I wanted to go back out there but we had to put me on ice, we have got a game in Fiji next week. Defensively I thought we were pretty resilient. We had 29 tackles we had to defend in the cage and we only had four, so I think we were resilient to go into halftime ahead, I was really proud of that." - Storm captain Ryan Papenhuyzen. 

Papenhuyzen loving life

What's next

The Bulldogs return to Belmore Oval to face the Sharks next Friday night in Round 2 of the NRL Pre-season Challenge, while the Storm travel to Fiji to host the Knights in an historic meeting of two NRL clubs at Churchill Park, Lautoka.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy is expected to give more of his big names a run against Newcastle, while star recruit Stephen Crichton could make his first appearance for Canterbury. 

Acknowledgement of Country

Melbourne Storm respect and honour 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.