The premiers commence training on January 4, and the club wanted to avoid their players being forced to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel.
Despite being forced to spend 127 days away on the road last season, some of the Storm players will now spend Christmas without family and loved ones.
Papenhuyzen, who was looking forward to some much-deserved down time with family and friends in Sydney, boarded a flight, while new recruits Reimis Smith and George Jennings also happily heeded the Storm’s advice.
Because the players were on annual leave, they were not required to return early, which is why Melbourne were blown away by the positive response.
Josh Addo-Carr will remain in Sydney, but the Canterbury-bound flyer was not due to resume training until the end of next month.
Coach Craig Bellamy has remained in Queensland, but Victoria does not require those flying in from the Sunshine State to quarantine.
Storm football manager Frank Ponissi praised the nine players for their latest selfless act, one which was made even harder with Christmas just five days away.
The players were forced to self-isolate on Monday and undergo COVID tests.
“Our boys have been tremendous, the decision [with the borders] was made at midday, then they all got on planes or drove down over the border before midnight,” Ponissi told the Herald.
“‘Paps’ was among them, but the two I want to make special mention of is Reimis and George because those two were not due here until early January, but in the space of a few hours made a decision to pack and get down here without knowing anyone here.
“They’ll now spend Christmas without family.
“We couldn’t force any of the boys to come back early from holidays, it was an individual decision. As a club all we could do was present all the facts about what would happen if they couldn’t get back here before midnight last night. We were also mindful Christmas was this week. So we’re in awe of all of them with how they were able to make such a big decision so quickly.”
Addo-Carr inked a four-year deal with Canterbury last week for 2022 onwards, and the fact the ‘Fox’ will remain behind for Christmas did not mean he was pushing for an early release, Ponissi said. The Bulldogs are also down a winger after Christian Crichton reportedly suffered a ruptured ACL at training last week.
Even if Addo-Carr did push for a release, he would be required to play with the Wests Tigers next year after he signed a heads of agreement.
“But Josh will be back here 150 per cent,” Ponissi said.
The Storm defeated Penrith in the grand final in what may be Cameron Smith’s final game for the club and a fantastic campaign that saw the entire team based nearly 2000km away from the Victorian capital more than four months.
Meanwhile, Raiders boss Don Furner said the club had spoken to its players with families in Sydney and asked they stay behind this holiday.
New recruit Albert Hopoate’s famous family is based on the northern beaches while Corey Harawira-Naera and Caleb Aekins, among others, had planned to spend Christmas in Sydney.
“It looks like all the boys have chosen to stay, and while we told them they were free to head home, we pointed out they would be forced to isolate when they returned,” Furner said.
“We’ll now look to put on a Christmas lunch for the boys who stay behind so they’re not on their own.”
Christian covers rugby league for The Sydney Morning Herald.