A letter penned from Billy Slater on the eve of the Telstra Premiership grand final provided the final dose of belief for Ryan Papenhuyzen to emulate the champion No.1 on the big stage.
Papenhuyzen added his name next to Slater by claiming the Clive Churchill Medal following the Storm’s 26-20 win in the Telstra Premiership grand final on Sunday night.
It was the sixth time a Storm player has been judged best on ground in an NRL premiership decider, joining the likes of Billy Slater (twice), Cooper Cronk, Greg Inglis and Brett Kimmorley.
Upon reflecting on his achievements in securing a premiership and Clive Churchill medal just 42 games into his career, Papenhuyzen referred to Slater's words leading into Sunday's decider.
"He typed up a message I got to read yesterday, it's a pinch-yourself moment to think Billy Slater is writing you a letter to wish you good luck for a grand final," Papenhuyzen said.
"It's pretty amazing. He doesn't hold anything back, he's an open book. I spoke to him a few times before this game and he's been really good.
Papenhuyzen claims Clive Churchill Medal
"He said [he] remembered a couple of conversations we had like me going up to Bill when I was a third-string [fullback] and asking him what I had to do to make the team.
"He said he reflected on that and said I was going to be good from that day [in the letter]. Just those sort of things, I didn't know it at the time he was thinking about that but to hear it from him was really special.
"It's amazing to think back on it now. Hopefully [my story] gives hope to people in a similar position and hope they try to emulate [it].
"They said if you work hard you'll get your opportunity. I didn't get my opportunity at fullback [to start my career], it was off the bench and I had to just solidify myself in the side.
"If it can inspire someone else then I'll be happy."
Once considered a third-string fullback behind Jarome Hughes and Scott Drinkwater, the 22-year-old's journey to become the club's leading fullback began not long after Slater called it quits in 2018.
Inspiration also came from another Queenslander by the name of Cameron Smith. Papenhuyzen grinned when talking about the champion dummy-half, who may have played his last game on Sunday night.
"His leadership, you don't get to see that, just the way he speaks in big moments," Papenhuyzen said.
Little Papenhuyzen, big leap
"He motivates me, if I don't have him in the side, that's why he's so great. You always heard Slater, Cronk and Smith were grubs [growing up in NSW].
"I remember thinking it and then coming down to Melbourne but [Smith] is like a father figure. I've seen it, my family has seen it, everyone has seen it.
"I don't think he deserves a lot of the stuff he cops in the media. He's great and wants to make everyone better. He's the greatest player for a reason."
Papenhuyzen's reward for success didn't stop there on the night with the livewire No.1 picked in Brad Fittler's NSW squad for Origin I on November 4.
He expects to play second fiddle role behind NSW fullback James Tedesco but is happy to play anywhere in a bid to play a part in the series.
"I've actually been in the junior Blues side with Freddie as coach," Papenhuyzen said.
"He's really cool and it's a massive honour. Just to be named in the squad I'm stoked. A Blues jersey is a Blues jersey."
According to Telstra Tracker data, he racked up 46 high-speed efforts of 20km/h or more during the match, breaking the 2020 record previously held by Eels captain Clint Gutherson.
He hit a top speed of 35.6km/h when he scored his runaway try to also be the fastest player of the game.