Alex McKinnon has made extraordinary claims that Craig Bellamy was "almost asking for trouble" by playing Ryan Papenhuyzen in the middle rather than at his preferred position of fullback. Papenhuyzen broke his ankle in devastating scenes last Friday night in the Melbourne Storm's loss to Brisbane.
Playing in just his third NRL game since fracturing his kneecap into 10 pieces last season, Papenhuyzen got his leg caught under teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona and broke his ankle. The 25-year-old was in tears on the field after the latest brutal setback, following his return to the field after more than 12 months on the sidelines.
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Bellamy had resisted calls to start Papenhuyzen at fullback, instead going with Nick Meaney - who has been in brilliant form at the back all season. The Storm coach injected Papenhuyzen off the bench and put him in the middle of the field as an extra ball-player, hoping he could spark some havoc around the ruck.
But according to McKinnon, the decision not to play Papenhuyzen at fullback was partly to blame for his injury. Papenhuyzen was forced to do more tackling and grunt work than he normally would at the back.
"I cannot understand the decision to play Ryan Papenhuyzen as a middle off the bench," McKinnon wrote in an opinion piece for Fox Sports on Tuesday. "It’s easy to say in hindsight, but Papenhuyzen is a $1 million player coming back from a serious knee injury and playing him in the middle was almost asking for trouble.
"Nick Meaney has probably been the most overperforming value-for-money player this season, but Ryan Papenhuyzen is Ryan Papenhuyzen. If the plan was to play him for 50 minutes in the middle then surely he was fit enough to start at fullback. He’s a Ferrari but they were driving him like a RAV4."
McKinnon was paralysed and left a quadriplegic after he was dumped in a lifting tackle during a game for Newcastle against Melbourne in 2014. He played 46 games for the Knights, as well as three for the St George Illawarra Dragons, before his career was tragically cut short.
Ryan Papenhuyzen could be back for start of 2024 season
Initial reports suggested Papenhuyzen had suffered a compound fracture, which sparked fears he would struggle to get back to his best and would be forced into retirement. But those reports turned out to be wrong, and the injury isn't nearly as serious as first feared.
According to reports, Papenhuyzen only required one plate and one screw in his ankle, and the Storm expect him to be ready for pre-season training in the new year. Storm general manager of football Frank Ponissi clarified on Saturday it was "definitely not a compound fracture" (where the bone pierces the skin).
"Scans overnight suggest that it may not be as serious as first feared," he told AAP, before later revealing "surgery went well". Ponissi said: "This is just another challenge that he will take on with both hands. At this stage, we expect him to be back training in the new year but for now we're focused on ensuring he is getting the right care."
Ryan Papenhuyzen is facing another lengthy injury lay-off after fracturing his lower leg/ankle in the first week of NRL Finals.
Despite such a horrible injury there have been silver linings since then, and on @MagicSpongePod we are optimistic he can be available in Round 1 2024. pic.twitter.com/doMQoFrtIP
— NRL PHYSIO (@nrlphysio) September 11, 2023
Bellamy said post-game: "I can't imagine how he's feeling at the moment. The amount of work he put in to get back to playing again, then get back into the NRL too. It wasn't a great night anyway, and it made it a lot worse."
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