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NRL Round 1 predicted teams: Melbourne Storm - Papenhuyzen sets surprise return date

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30th January, 2024
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As part of a series profiling the expected Round 1 sides for all 17 NRL clubs in 2024, it’s time to see if Craig Bellamy can conjure up another title in Victoria before retiring. 

Craig Bellamy needs Ryan Papenhuyzen back on the park and back to his best if the Storm are any hope of upsetting Penrith’s building dynasty in what could be his last year as coach. 

The Storm were solid last season but lacked the attacking spark to ever seriously challenge the Panthers as the premiership benchmark. 

Papenhuyzen is on the comeback trail yet again after suffering a broken leg late last season and returned to the US in December to again work with conditioning guru Bill Knowles. 

He delivered great news on Tuesday that he is not only confident he will be right for Round 1 but is looking to get a trial under his belt.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Ryan Papenhuyzen of the Storm is attended to by a team trainer after an ankle injury during the NRL Qualifying Final match between the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium on September 08, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Ryan Papenhuyzen after suffering his ankle injury against Brisbane. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

“I think I might be playing a trial game,” Papenhuyzen told Nine News. “I think I was a bit overrawed with emotion, disappointment – (thinking) not again, who have I let down? I think visually seeing my foot that way probably didn’t help.

“It’s probably not natural, but I’ve got this overwhelming confidence that I can (get back to my best). I don’t know if that’s because of all the mental work I’ve done while I’ve been out, but I don’t see why not.”

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They need him firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later as the 2020 Clive Churchill Medallist has the X-factor in attack that the Storm lacked last season. 

The Storm have a settled and top-quality spine in the other slots with Cameron Munster, Jahrome Hughes and Harry Grant elite in their respective positions. 

Who’s new? 

There is actually only one new recruit in Melbourne this year due to their star-studded roster leaving little wriggle room in the salary cap.

They have added Tigers forward Shawn Blore a year ahead of schedule as part of the Justin Olam trade. 

However, they have a rising star in Sualauvi Fa’alogo who showed in his one NRL match late last season that he can give the Storm a new attacking threat out wide. He will probably not make the Round 1 line-up but could be thrown into the big time again early in the season as a bench utility or in the starting side if injuries strike in the outside backs. 

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Who’s gone? 

They’ve lost some experience in their pix with Tariq Sims jetting off to Catalans and Tom Eisenhuth linking with the Dragons. Justin Olam is trying to re-establish himself as one of the NRL’s best centres with the Wests Tigers.

Jayden Nikorima, George Jennings and Jordan Grant have also left but were infrequent members of the NRL side last season. 

Key spots to unlock

Centre is in an unusual state of flux at the Storm.  

PNG star Justin Olam lost his spot late last season and has joined Wests Tigers. Nick Meaney is set to switch to the centres in 2024 to accommodate Papenhuyzen at fullback. Reimis Smith, Marion Seve and Young Tonumaipea are also in the mix. 

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Their depth in the pack has taken another step backwards so Bellamy can’t does too many injuries in the forwards. 

At full strength they can muscle up with the best packs in the NRL but they are super thin if their first-choice big boppers are unavailable.

Round 1 predicted team

1 Ryan Papenhuyzen
2 Xavier Coates
3 Reimis Smith
4 Nick Meaney
5 Will Warbrick
6 Cameron Munster
7 Jahrome Hughes
8 Tui Kamikamica
9 Harry Grant
10 Christian Welch
11 Trent Loiero
12 Eliesa Katoa
13 Josh King
Interchange
14 Tyran Wishart
15 Nelson Asofa-Solomona
16 Tepai Moeroa
17 Aaron Pene

Other squad members: Bronson Garlick, Chris Lewis, Alec MacDonald, Marion Seve, Shawn Blore, Jonah Pezet, Joe Chan, Jack Howarth, Dean Ieremia, Young Tonumaipea.

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