BY LAWRENCE MACHADO
As a six-year-old he was honing his skills on playing fields in the Hills and Hawkesbury area with the Kellyville Bushrangers now, at the age of 22, Ryan Papenhuyzen, is with Melbourne Storm and is considered one of the hottest rugby properties in Australia.
Fondly known as “Paps” the fullback is relishing this year’s NRL championship after stepping into the huge shoes of Australian great Billy Slater and is keen to stake his claims for the State of Origin and Kangaroo jerseys in the footsteps of his hero.
Even his Storm coach, Craig Bellamy who does not hand out praise easily, tapped Papenhuyzen for a shot at the State of Origin this year. “I think he (Ryan) will be ideal with NSW… Freddy (NSW coach Brad Fittler) is looking for someone who could add pace and still does not shirk from tackles,” Bellamy said.
It’s huge praise for a young player who honed his rugby league skills with Kellyville Bushrangers, Dundas Shamrocks and the Hills District Bulls. Papenhuyzen, who presented Australia in schools’ rugby before making his name in league, is not a big man but his whipcord strength and natural skills make him a very difficult customer for the opposition.
He was already a rising star in NSW and at Oakhill College, Castle Hill, when I first wrote about him for the local 2015 Junior Sports Star Awards which he won and was later crowned the overall NSW Junior Sports Star of the Year.
Oakhill College has a rich rugby union heritage – both Papenhuyzen and Sydney Roosters star Luke Keary played this game at a high level here before moving to league. Paps was the top try scorer in the NSW SG Ball, a member of the NSW U16 State of Origin team and the Australian Schoolboys in their two-Test series against New Zealand in 2015.
He moved to Balmain Tigers and then Wests Tigers under 20s, before being lured south of the border and making his NRL debut for the Storm last year. He played in the World Nines and for the Australian under 23s too.
Kellyville Bushrangers secretary James Power said the club is delighted to see their former players excelling.
“We are very proud of Ryan and Luke Keary who played for us and then moved onto bigger clubs,” Power said. “NSW State of Origin player Jamie Buhrer (who retired in 2019) and Matt Doorey, who made his debut this season with the Bulldogs, are others who played in our junior ranks.
“We had several promising players coming through, including Roland Podesta, who played for Ireland and is now with Sea Eagles.” Power said the club had focusing on its women teams, with their under-16s winning the premiership this year.