The call that cost Wests Tigers superstar fullbacks
The Storm nearly offloaded star fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen after the NSW Origin bolter became stuck in a log-jam which could have cost Melbourne the NRL's form fullback.
Papenhuyzen will make his first appearance in an NRL grand final when Melbourne tackles Penrith at ANZ Stadium on Sunday night.
He will then be named in NSW's 27-man squad for next month's State of Origin series, capping a dramatic year which has seen him fly into the top echelon of No.1s.
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While Papenhuyzen has enjoyed a meteoric rise at Melbourne, The Courier-Mail can reveal the Storm discussed releasing him after overloading on gun fullbacks including Billy Slater, Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Scott Drinkwater.
After poaching Papenhuyzen from Wests Tigers in 2017, Storm recruitment chief Paul Bunn said Melbourne was unsure if he would make it at the club.
"To be fair to the Tigers, they wanted to keep 'Paps' but they thought they would never lose James Tedesco," he said.
"They probably felt 'if we keep Tedesco, we're blocking the path for Paps'. They acknowledged he may have needed a chance somewhere else.
"There was talk of us letting him go. We ideally never wanted him sold, but we had a number of fullbacks at the time and we were weighing things up. His agent didn't want him let go because he had full belief Paps would be the long-term fullback.
"At the time (in 2018), we had four options. Billy Slater was our fullback, then there was Cameron Munster, who wanted to play one, Jahrome Hughes and we even had Scott Drinkwater. Paps was a bit behind all of them, so buggered if we knew what we were going to do.
"But thankfully, Paps never gave up hope. He is such a competitor and he just kept plugging away. Billy retired that year, Munster ended up at five-eighth, Drinky went to the Cowboys and Jahrome moved to the halves, so it all worked out for Paps."
There are few more dynamic players in the NRL than Papenhuyzen, who has become a fullback revelation with his blistering speed in 41 games since debuting for the Storm in 2019.
But the 22-year-old could have easily been wearing Wests Tigers colours.
After being snubbed by Parramatta as a junior, Papenhuyzen came through the Tigers' development system and under-20s.
But he could not see a pathway to the NRL with Tedesco standing in the way and opted to join the Storm in 2017.
Tedesco signed with the Roosters from 2018 and has since become the NRL's No.1 player - meaning the Tigers have lost two of the game's best fullbacks.
"I was a Parra junior and didn't really make the rep sides, I was just playing footy for fun," Papenhuyzen said.
"I had a year off league, I was around 13-14, I didn't want to play. I was playing union at school and had a few injuries. I kept playing touch footy which got me back into rugby league.
"The guys I was playing with were playing for the Dundas Shamrocks which is under the Balmain District Comp. I said I'd give it a go, we had a good bunch of boys and coach.
"We ended up winning the premiership and I said 'how good is this?'. I loved it. I got the love for it again. I was really enjoying it.
"I made the Balmain development sides and then Harold Matthews, SG Ball and under-20s. But I didn't think Tedesco would leave the Tigers.
"I played a curtain raiser State of Origin game in Melbourne (2015) and Storm recruiter Dane Campbell put my name on the table. I had a meeting with Craig (Bellamy, Storm coach) and Frank (Ponissi, football manager) not long after that and that's how it all came about.
"I moved for the opportunity, it was a big decision. You hear how good Melbourne is. You see all these players come from positions like what I was in and become great players.
"I wanted to be that. I knew Billy (Slater) would be my mentor and I've admired his game for a long time.
"It was a no-brainer in the end. I made the decision to head south."
Papenhuyzen's form throughout the NRL finals series has been sensational.
He produced a near perfect display in the Storm's week one demolition of Parramatta and was superb in the grand final qualifier against Canberra.
Papenhuyzen will enter the grand final brimming with confidence and said he was determined to get the job done.
"It's been a lot of hard work, that's what I look back on," he said.
"There were some days where I thought I wouldn't make it. I didn't think it was for me. Thinking about that now, it's pretty silly I thought like that.
"I've done the hard work and tough pre-seasons so it's really cool to see where I am now.
"We have become so close as a team this year, it is really starting to show. We are so close to the end.
"It's all come to this point. We've put in the hard work and sacrificed a lot. The feeling is good but we want to finish the job."
Originally published as The call that cost Wests Tigers superstar fullbacks