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The Diamonds star adding shine to Papenhuyzen's ring quest

Ryan Papenhuyzen allowed himself a moment of reflection after winning his way through to the 2020 grand final.

That moment, as he gazed at the inky void above Suncorp Stadium after beating the Raiders in the preliminary final last week,  made him reflect on his relationship with Australian netball star Kelsey Browne and his own unique career path with the Melbourne Storm.

"I looked up at the dark sky, the only blank space in the stadium, and just reflected on my own journey that had built to this moment," Papenhuyzen told NRL.com.

Browne, Papenhuyzen’s partner, has been a huge support and inspiration to him in the Melbourne "bubble" at the Twin Waters resort on the Sunshine Coast.

One of the best midcourters in the world, the Diamonds representative plays with Collingwood Magpies in Super Netball.

Papenhuyzen wants to emulate her premiership credentials – after she won the 2017 and 2018 titles with her former club.

"She has played for the Diamonds and won two premierships up here on the Sunshine Coast with the Lightning, so she is pretty handy," Papenhuyzen told NRL.com.

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"I will have to ask her for some advice this week about how she did it because she won two titles back-to-back.

"Every now and then she gets a bit cheeky and tells me she has won two and I haven't won one yet, so that is a bit of fire in the belly.

"I'd love to get one up now and chase her record down."

Browne initially stayed behind in Melbourne when the Storm relocated to Queensland.

Diamonds star Kelsey Browne.
Diamonds star Kelsey Browne. ©AAP

"They had their Suncorp Super Netball series comp move up here so she had to relocate like us so it worked out well," Papenhuyzen said.

"Her season has finished so she is in our bubble now.

"We play a lot of [the card game] 500 together and we are competitive. I am a pretty aggressive caller, so when she is not happy with one of my calls I hear about it.

"There are different experiences in netball and rugby league but we do share a lot of experiences that work for her and work for me. It is pretty cool."

The confronting video

When Papenhuyzen gazed skyward after beating the Raiders it was with a thought about the club's resilience in a time of upheaval, and a video that coach Craig Bellamy had recently shown the team.

"That is what I reflected on the other night ... completing the pre-season, then the season and getting to this point," Papenhuyzen said.

"We had a look at a video the other day of when we got the COVID news and how we were going to have to relocate from Melbourne, and there was a lot of sad faces in the room because people had to leave their families and pack up and go.

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"To look back at that, compared to where we are now and the opportunity we have got, it is an amazing feeling."

Papenhuyzen then explained what his own face looked like.

"It was disbelief, but there is a big message there on overcoming and adapting to any situation," he said.

"That is something that Craig [Bellamy] did really well. He said, 'we can't put our heads down. They aren't going to stop the season for us. We have got to move and get on with it'.

"That attitude fed through the whole group rapidly and once we got up here we found positives out of staying together and got through.

"There were boys that did it a lot tougher than me, but the NRL was really good at bringing the families up because that was our one request.

"Thinking about all the people back in Victoria, it has been an absolutely grim year for them and we just want to wear the big 'V' on our jersey and make them proud."

Then there were two

The Storm initiation

The 22-year-old has already told NRL.com of his desire to succeed after being told while in the Eels junior system that he was too small to make it. Also a Wests Tigers junior, he played under 20s with the club before the Storm signed him ahead of the 2018 season.

Papenhuyzen had not had a pre-season with the club when he watched Cameron Smith's side dismantle the Cowboys in the 2017 decider.

"I remember the 2017 grand final well. At that point, I knew I was going to join the club and I got a couple of tickets to the game," Papenhuyzen recalled.

"I remember Macklemore playing before the game and then the boys putting on a massive performance, they won so convincingly. It was unbelievable to see how tight the boys were."

One try from that game stands out in his memory as "crazy", involving Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater in an interchange of passing in the middle of the park which led to a try to Josh Addo-Carr.

Collingwood netballer Kelsey Browne.
Collingwood netballer Kelsey Browne. ©AAP

Now Papenhuyzen is replicating the same kind of plays with Smith and halves Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes.

He plans on showcasing those very skills against the Panthers at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

The career-changing moments

In 2019, Papenhuyzen's round-nine cameo off the bench against the Eels in a 64-10 win was the game where he announced himself as a rare talent.

But it was six weeks earlier while playing Intrust Super Cup for the Sunshine Coast Falcons when there was a turning point that he reflected upon in his Suncorp Stadium flashback.

"I was in and around the 21-man squad and it was round three against the Panthers last year in Bathurst where I was so excited to go to the game, warm up and help the boys," he said.

"After I had warmed up with the boys I had to drive to Sydney and I listened to the game.

"Next day I flew to the Sunny Coast, had a delayed flight, and got here at 10.30am for a game at twelve [noon]. I was so excited to warm up and played my first game as a utility and come off the bench [for the Falcons] and had a pretty good game.

"It was only a week later that Bellsa [Bellamy] gave me my first NRL game off the bench against the Doggies. Fast forward a year and a bit and I am a starting fullback so it is a pretty amazing journey."

Working with Bill

Papenhuyzen has thrived off the advice of club legend Billy Slater.

"I will talk to him this week. He has spoken to me before every finals game we have played so far and he said to play my normal game and be diligent with my routine and preparation," Papenhuyzen said.

"Bill has said to me that I have played well all season and there is no need to change anything now, and to trust the boys with the finals experience.

"It ties back to everything Craig said when I first came to the club, and that is to do my job.

"For me, it is all about staying involved and that is another thing Bill encourages. With the rule changes this year you have seen a lot of tries from supporting plays, and that is how Bill scored a lot of his tries.

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen.
Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen. ©Scott Davis/NRL Photos

"You have just got to be live, be ready, anticipate and grab the opportunity when it comes."

Now Papenhuyzen is in a grand final he has one mission, and if he is successful he will no doubt look to the heavens again.

"I can't imagine what it would be like to win a premiership. It is a massive focus of mine.

"It is every kid's dream and it was definitely one of mine. We've just got to finish the job now."