Ryan Papenhuyzen has given the Melbourne Storm a massive boost ahead of the finals with a 77-minute display in three different positions against Brisbane.
The 25-year-old fullback started his first NRL game since July last year after a lengthy recovery from a broken knee cap.
Papenhuyzen had 14 runs for 137 metres, set up a try for electric debutant Sua Fa’alogo and scored one himself in the 32-22 win over the Broncos.
The Storm will finish third or fourth and play Penrith or the Broncos in the first week of the finals.
Coach Craig Bellamy is yet to decide whether the 2020 premiership winner will start or come off the bench in finals footy but Thursday night’s display was just the tonic for the Storm.
“All we wanted to see was how much time he got through. He would have got through 80 minutes if we'd needed him to,” Bellamy said.
“We used him in a few different roles. He started at fullback, played in the halves and played in the ruck for 10 or 15 minutes. We are not sure how we are going to use him (in the finals). We are pretty sure he is going to be in the 17.”
Papenhuyzen replaced the rested Nick Meaney at No.1 against the Broncos and roved around the park when Fa'alogo came on at fullback.
He had played three games for the Sunshine Coast in Queensland Cup and one off the bench in the NRL, where he had 18 minutes of game time, since his return from injury.
“I probably would have preferred to see him run the ball a bit more tonight but I am not sure how long it is going to take before he has that confidence,” Bellamy said.
"It was an horrific injury and to be out for that long he is obviously going to be rusty in certain parts of the game. We are really happy with the last couple of weeks.”
"He gives you a little bit of X-factor. He is an experienced player too. He has been a Clive Churchill Medallist and we know he is going to add something to us.
"I just think he will get better and better as he goes along. Tonight was a really important step, to be able to play 80 minutes if he had to.”
The Storm had 11 front line players out against the Broncos. Bellamy said hooker Harry Grant (shoulder) and half Jahrome Hughes (knee), who missed the match, were on track for finals.
“Harry will play. I am really confident of that, and I think Jahrome (will),” Bellamy said.
“We haven't seen Jahrome. We didn't bring him up to Brisbane because the flight could have swollen the injury up which wouldn't have been good for him.”