Gun Melbourne fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen will miss their NRL grand final rematch against Penrith while two other Storm stars will be sidelined for longer than expected.
Papenhuyzen was ruled out of the the round three clash at Panthers Stadium on Thursday night due to a neck injury sustained in last week’s loss to Parramatta.
He is expected to miss one game, his absence a huge blow for the Storm with coach Craig Bellamy rating him as their best player in the opening matches of the season.
The Storm had hoped to have co-captain Dale Finucane (calf) and hooker Harry Grant (knee) back next round but Bellamy revealed on Wednesday that their recovery had been slower than expected.
“They (Finucane and Grant) are taking longer than we’d like and longer than what was first expected – they will probably be another two or three weeks away,” Bellamy said.
Melbourne’s other injured Origin representative, centre Brenko Lee, has overcome his hamstring injury to have his first run of the season in the Queensland Cup.
The Storm were hopeful Papenhuyzen could recover to take on the Panthers, who haven’t conceded a point in their two matches, but on Wednesday announced he wouldn’t make the trip north.
The Clive Churchill Medallist has been in blistering form, with 424-run metres despite the loss to Parramatta being played in heavy rain.
Papenhuyzen tops the competition for runs, with 45, and kick-return metres.
He is also Melbourne’s first-choice goal kicker, with Jahrome Hughes his likely replacement,
Nicho Hynes is tipped to start at fullback.
“His figures from last week were unbelievable, the amount of runs he had and metres and his involvements, just in contact,” Bellamy said of 22-year-old Papenhuyzen.
“He was outstanding again and he’s been our best player the first two games by a mile really.
“His work-rate is quite phenomenal and we all know how tough he is, he will never, ever shirk that so we’ve given him a rest this week and hopefully keep him reasonably fresh.”