Ryan Papenhuyzen and Kalyn Ponga have been chasing each other around footy fields since they were 14, two speed demons who became mates sharing the same hopes and dreams.
The pair will be star attractions when they meet again on Saturday afternoon as Melbourne and Newcastle clash in the NRL match at Central Coast Stadium.
The two fullbacks first crossed paths at an under-15 national rugby league carnival where Ponga, playing for Queensland against Papenhuyzen’s NSW, was the stand-out.
A few years later the pair were the stars of the Australian under-18s touch football team who played in a Trans-Tasman series, with Papenhuyzen billeting Ponga at his Sydney home.
The 22-year-olds linked up again in the Australian Nines team last year.
“The first time I came up against Kalyn he was unbelievable; had great footwork and was the stand-out of the tournament,” said Storm fullback Papenhuyzen on Wednesday.
“We got to play together in the Australian touch side and he stayed at mine for a week there and that’s where it all started so to see him rise though the ranks, it’s pretty cool.
“We became mates – we share the same interests and have the same dreams and hopes.”
While Ponga is an established superstar in the NRL, Papenhuyzen is doing his best to make his mark.
He scored a try in Melbourne’s last-round win over Souths and also pulled off a stunning aerial move, diving over the sideline to bat a penalty kick back into play.
Papenhuyzen feels he’s not yet at the top of his game and says he’s still adjusting to the extra workload under the new rules, with his mileage up on previous seasons with the ball more in play.
“It has been a little bit harder than I thought it would be but I think it will eventually suit my game style,” he said.
“We are a very structured side so it’s about adjusting to playing more eyes up on the front foot.
“After last week there are signs there we can do it.”
Papenhuyzen revealed that Storm coach Craig Bellamy was keeping his options open as to who would wear the No.7 jersey in the absence of injured halfback Jahrome Hughes.
Ryley Jacks was named halfback but Papenhuyzen said that could change with Cooper Johns, son of former Knights great Matthew Johns, as well as Nico Hynes, also training in the role.