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  • Billy Slater reached out to Ryan Papenhuyzen after first injury
  • Melbourne Storm fullback said he is ‘forever in debt’ to Slater
  • The 25-year-old has also since recovered from a broken ankle

NRL star Ryan Papenhuyzen has praised footy great Billy Slater and his wife Nicole for keeping him mentally strong after the Melbourne Storm fullback was previously sidelined for over a year.

Papenhuyzen, 25, delighted fans this week after footage emerged on social media of the 2020 Clive Churchill Medal winner returning to pre-season training earlier than anticipated.

He was expected to be sidelined until at least January following his on-field collision with teammate Nelson Asofa-Solomona in Melbourne’s 26-0 loss to Brisbane in week one of the finals back in September where he broke his ankle.

It was just Papenhuyzen’s third game back from a fractured kneecap which had kept him sidelined for over 12 months.

The Wests Tigers junior has endured some dark days in recent years due to long term injuries, and time spent with the Slater family on their farm has proved invaluable.

Footy star Ryan Papenhuyzen reveals the touching way Billy Slater and his wife helped him beat shocking injury that could’ve ended his career

NRL star Ryan Papenhuyzen has praised footy great Billy Slater and his wife Nicole for keeping him mentally strong after the Melbourne Storm fullback was sidelined for over a year (pictured, after breaking his ankle in September)

Papenhuyzen, 25, delighted fans this week after footage emerged of the 2020 Clive Churchill Medal winner returning to pre-season training earlier than anticipated

Papenhuyzen, 25, delighted fans this week after footage emerged of the 2020 Clive Churchill Medal winner returning to pre-season training earlier than anticipated

Papenhuyzen revealed he spent time with rugby league legend Billy Slater on his family farm (pictured) after shattering his kneecap

Papenhuyzen revealed he spent time with rugby league legend Billy Slater on his family farm (pictured) after shattering his kneecap

‘Billy has been awesome. I am where I am now because of him,’ Papenhuyzen said.

‘He went through such a long-term injury himself and understands how tough it is but him and [wife] Nicole would invite me over to their place and we would just have a day out where we would not talk about footy.

‘He understood the mental side of rehab and how you need to switch off sometimes and enjoy the company of others. I am just really grateful to them.

‘They would invite me out to their farm. We’d go out and have dinner. [Slater’s children] Tyla and Jake would chill out and we’d go play some tennis.’

Papenhuyzen also revealed Slater – regarded by many as the game’s greatest ever fullback – helped adjust his mindset.

‘Big credit to Slats,’ he said. ‘He is unbelievable. I am forever in debt to him.

‘He spoke about how important it is to have someone else [helping] while you are not playing, to keep your mind simulated.

‘It is just special to have someone like him at the club who wants to give back so much.’

Melbourne are tipped to adopt a cautious approach with Papenhuyzen this pre-season, with the no.1 firming to feature in their 2024 season opener against premiers Penrith. 



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