Legacies are made on the big stage and on Sunday night Ryan Papenhuyzen showed he’s more than made for the limelight.
The Melbourne Storm fullback capped off a sensational season by tearing up ANZ Stadium as the Storm claimed a 26-20 win over the Penrith Panthers.
As all eyes focused on Storm star Cameron Smith in what may well have been his final game, it was Papenhuyzen who stole the show with a series of freakish highlights that saw him claim the Clive Churchill medal as the best player on the field.
His dazzling performance saw him effectively shut the door on the contest with a soul-crushing line break early in the second half.
With the Storm leading 22-0 and following on from a poor Panthers challenge, Papenhuyzen took full advantage of a dejected Panthers line to break through and streak away for an untouched 70m try.
But it was later in the contest when he really produced his biggest moment of the match as the Panthers searched for a response on the scoreboard.
As the momentum of the contest began to shift in Penrith’s favour, Nathan Cleary’s already nightmare outing sunk even further.
After Smith had given away a penalty, Cleary looked to gain as much ground as possible with a kick into touch. Unfortunately he tried to bite off more than he could chew.
Papenhuyzen showed incredible alertness to sprint across the turf and launch himself over the sideline, before showing amazing athleticism to tap the ball back into play and into the hands of his Storm teammates as they held the 26-6 advantage.
Look at the ground he covered and the perfect timing on his leap to shut down the Panthers’ attacking surge.
Papenhuyzen’s moment of brilliance left the commentary team in disbelief and lit up social media.
“Papenhuyzen, he left the field of play to rake it back in field and it’s play on for Vunivalu,” Ray Warren said. “That is a magnificent play by Papenhuyzen.”
“He was halfway up Parramatta Road. Look how far outside the field of play he gets here. He doesn’t give up on it, watch this,” Phil Gould said.
“My god,” Warren added.
Herald Sun reporter Nick Smart summed it up perfectly: “That is … ridiculous from Papenhuyzen”
Sydney Morning Herald reporter Christian Nicolussi said: “Ryan Papenhuyzen. FREAK.”
With a game high 204 metres run, his line-breaking breakaway try and this freakish play, it was clear he was the difference in the contest and was rightfully awarded the Clive Churchill medal.
The 22-year-old Storm star couldn’t believe his premiership moment was being capped off with the illustrious best on field medal.
“This is unbelievable. I don’t know (what to say) I’m pretty speechless. I got pretty emotional after the game,” Papenhuyzen said.
“First of all, thanks to the boys. It’s been a bloody tough year. We didn’t know where we were going. We were sitting on the tarmac at Bankstown Airport and we didn’t have a clue where we were going.
“We just stuck together, we overcame and adapted and we got history.
“It looked really bad at some stages, but thanks, Peter, (V’landys) thank you for getting the game going. You’re really strong and we’re really grateful for that. It’s been a great year.
“Thanks, Penrith. You are really good. 17 in a row is an unbelievable achievement.
“Well done to you guys. Thanks to our fans who stuck strong. Especially our ones back in Victoria. It’s a tough time back in Victoria. It’s a tough time back there at the moment and we wear the V on our jersey proudly.
“We can’t wait to go back there and celebrate with you guys, so thank you.”
Capping his night off even further, Papenhuyzen was named to the extended squad for NSW in the upcoming State of Origin series.