Rusty and dusty was Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy's description of fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen's return to the NRL - but that's what he expected.
In his first game since round 10 on Friday, the Storm eased their star fullback into the NRL with a 34-minute display in their grinding 20-16 win over North Queensland.
But Bellamy understands the hurdles the 23-year-old has overcome in his battle back to full fitness.
"It's been a difficult nine weeks for him, not just physically or getting ready for it, but also emotionally and and mentally," Bellamy said.
"The early weeks, it didn't look like he was making it much improvement at all but the last two or three weeks he's really brightened up.
"We're (just) really happy now that he's made that start."
Taking nine runs and amassing 79 total metres, it wasn't the electric performance fans were used to earlier this season, but even amongst an away crowd Papenhuyzen was met with a mighty cheer when he entered the fold.
"It felt like the first few games I played in the NRL, just coming off the bench," he told AAP.
"It was good to get that little 30 minutes in and to sort of get a feel for what it's all like again.
"The whole week I wasn't really nervous or excited or anything really. It was just about sort of getting back and doing my job and hoping I could get through."
While Papenhuyzen sat and watched the Storm going on their record run, the fullback said the emotions got the better of him at times during his recovery.
"It was pretty tough, sort of missing a fair chunk of time and feeling better and then dropping off and not feeling so great," he said.
"Just that rollercoaster of emotions, I think physically and emotionally, it just got to me a little bit.
"Now I've got through it I'm just grateful, so string a few games together and hopefully be there for the back end of the season."
Australian Associated Press