Papenhuyzen was a Balmain junior and featured in NSW representative sides before the 22-year-old chased his NRL dream with the Storm, where Billy Slater was coming to the end of his career and Tedesco was only getting started at the Tigers. Papenhuyzen was also more impressed with Melbourne and their plans to treat his hamstring issues.
“I was disillusioned when the Wests Tigers couldn’t find a spot for him,” Fittler said of Papenhuyzen. “There were a few [decisions] there where whatever they did during that period, it was just wrong.
“So someone got it wrong, whoever is was, and I don’t care.
“He [Papenhuyzen] has been awesome. Before the grand final I asked him, ‘Mate, how are you going to get your speed in with it being so wet?’
“And he just said, ‘I’ll find a way’. And when he took off for that [second-half] try … he found a way.”
Tedesco watched the grand final with his Blues teammates and joked with Clint Gutherson how the pair would have been flat out reeling in Papenhuyzen when he spotted daylight in the second half.
“He’d burn me for sure,” Tedesco said.
The outstanding Tedesco famously departed the Tigers for the Roosters at the end of 2017 – the same time as Papenhuyzen exited – and won two premierships. He continues to be hounded by shattered Tigers fans.
“I think that’s happened a lot,” said Tedesco, when asked about good players departing Concord. “Josh Addo-Carr has also won a few premierships now. But what can you do?”
Addo-Carr was given his NRL start by the Tigers but, like Papenhuyzen, left for Melbourne where he has won two titles. The Tigers are now in talks to bring Addo-Carr home, on big money. Addo-Carr said after the grand final he was bound for Sydney in 2021, but “no other team is like Melbourne”.
Papenhuyzen, who took out the Clive Churchill Medal on Sunday night, told the Herald this month “I wouldn’t be half the player I am today” if he hadn’t headed south.
Fittler knows how important it is for the Tigers – and all Sydney clubs – to thrive because it improves NSW’s Origin hopes.
Parramatta’s Nathan Brown is another former Tiger in Blues camp.
Fittler said Papenhuyzen had come through the NSW under-16s and under-18s, and was already familiar with Blues staffers Danny Buderus and Paul Sironen.
“A lot of the staff involved then are here now – we’ve always been fans,” Fittler said.
Should Tedesco’s left knee not be right in time for Wednesday’s opener, Papenhuyzen or Gutherson will start at fullback.
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Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.