In the lead-up to the biggest game of his career, he is both excited and relaxed. He tells me with joy about being allowed out of the hub for a day, delighting in the opportunity to visit a cafe. It’s a sense of normalcy that has been rare to find this year.
“There were points this year where we didn’t know what was going on. We were on the tarmac at Bankstown airport after a game not knowing the go.”
When I tell him the story about the cabinetmaker’s prophecy, he laughs modestly, as though he is uncomfortable being labelled a star. I tell him to get used to it, because he’s got a fair few years of it ahead of him still. He laughs once more. In his humility you can hear the influence of Craig Bellamy, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, the forefathers of Melbourne’s famed club culture.
His modesty is in stark contrast to the fearless way he plays. After only 41 games, Papenhuyzen has established himself as one of the most exciting players in the game. He attacks the line with no regard for self-preservation and covers the ground like a pinball being flung around the inside of a machine. This style of play, he tells me, is spurred on by a simple thought in the back of his mind: “be involved”.
“I remember when they’d have a squad of 50 in the room in juniors and they’d tell us that only one or two would make the NRL. I’d be looking around thinking, ‘I’m not the best player here, does that mean I won’t make it?’
“Now when I think about that, I know it’s not the best player, it’s the player that keeps committing that will make it. It’s the guy that keeps going.”
Papenhuyzen is that guy. He was told he was too small as a junior. He wasn’t a part of Wests Tigers’ plans, so moved to Melbourne. He suffered injuries and flew to Queensland every weekend to play in the Intrust Cup.
“Seeing guys I’d played with make their debuts made me question myself. I thought maybe I’d missed the boat,’’ he said. ‘‘But it’s definitely motivated me and led me to where I am now.”