Melbourne will test itself without Papenyhuyzen for the first time this season on Saturday night – against reigning premiers Penrith, no less – after the speedster injured his hamstring and knee in round nine, ruling him out for four to six weeks.
While former Bulldog and Knight Nick Meaney was named in the Storm’s No.1 jumper when squads were released on Tuesday, Tyran Wishart is another player in the Melbourne ranks capable of slotting in at fullback.
READ MORE: Exhausted Gallen’s big hint on boxing future
Fittler highlighted the great success Melbourne had had in transforming fullbacks into top-line players.
“They know how to train a fullback up, and they’ve got Billy Slater down there (as a consultant).”
Nicho Hynes is another player who entered the NRL via Melbourne’s fullback spot, only to become a first-class halfback.
Papenhuyzen is topping the Dally M leaderboard after nine rounds.
The 23-year-old is also the leading try-scorer with 12, and is the only player to have scored four tries in a game this season.
A sickening high shot in Magic Round sidelined Papenhuyzen for the entire 2021 State of Origin series and, after again firming as a strong candidate for New South Wales‘ No.14 jersey, he’s out of calculations for game one of this year’s series.
Stream the NRL premiership 2022 live and free on 9Now.
“Irreplaceable. Absolutely irreplaceable. I don’t think there’s any player in the game that can identify a tired player or an overlap or an opportunity to exploit the defence and capitalise on it (like Papenhuyzen),” Johns said.
“Puts himself in the right situation every time. Every time there’s a chance to exploit the defence he’s there. Whether on the inside of forwards, whether around Munster, whether on the outside of Munster or Jahrome Hughes, he just knows where to put himself.”
Johns is arguably the greatest halfback in history, but the rugby league Immortal believes fullbacks play a more crucial role in the modern game.
Legends fear targeting of star players: Freddy & The Eighth – Round 10
“The way that Melbourne play and the way that most teams play, fullback now is probably more important than the halfback,” Johns said.
“Fullbacks are so important.”
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!