Raiders fans got a sorely needed dose of good news when it was announced that Joe Tapine had signed on until the end of the 2023 season. The magnitude of the player as well as the length of commitment – well beyond anyone on the roster – was a resounding vote of faith in the future of the organisation.
The Raiders have had a tough two years. Over 2017 and 2018 the Raiders lost three potential representative forwards (Shannon Boyd, Paul Vaughan and Junior Paulo). Combined with poor on-field results, and the departure of long-term assistants (Dean Pay in 2017, and Mick Crawley in 2018) the end of the 2018 season started to present cracks in the Stuart regime for the first time since he rejoined the club in 2014. But the signature of Tapine is a reflection that trust hasn’t been lost in the Canberra system yet.
Ricky Stuart would be ecstatic, and a little relieved. Once upon a time a player of Tapine’s quality, just about to hit his prime, would be ripe for the plucking by bigger clubs. Holding onto him shows the Raiders are planning their roster over the long term, and have enough gravitas to hold onto burgeoning stars. Should Jordan Rapana re-sign in the near future (as is widely rumoured), Canberra would have kept both an established star and a future one in one offseason. It is a welcome relief from what always felt like the inevitable departure of young players only to watch them flourish elsewhere.
Already a representative, Tapine still has yet to reach his full potential. Over the last 18 months he’s made his home as an edge forward, both for the Raiders and New Zealand. He noted in this piece by The Sydney Morning Herald that grand finals are very much on his mind. His best years are ahead of him, and by extending his time to the end of 2023 he shows that he is confident that he can reach that milestone in Canberra.
While 2018 seemed like a step up in his impact in big moments, the growth of his statistical output was more modest – he averaged five more meters per game in 2018 than 2017. But there’s no doubt that in 2018 he showed his ability to dominate as an edge-runner more often.
No better example was there than his dominant round 22 performance in the Raiders 22-20 loss to the Wests Tigers in which he tormented the Tigers’ edge defence to the tune of 2 tries, 10 tackle busts, 3 line-breaks and 150 plus metres. It was the kind of game that the Raiders had been hoping for from Tapine since he joined the club in 2016, a barnstorming display in which he routinely overpowered all that was thrown at him. It was an effort sandwiched by good performances (though not as statistically impressive) against the elite forward packs of the competition (Melbourne and Easts).
Sidebar: One of the most interesting parts of the Raiders 2019 puzzle will be the make-up of their backrow. Papalii, Tapine, Whitehead, and the “brothers” Bateman can all fill multiple positions across the backrow. Tapine’s performance in the back-end of 2018, combined with this contract, is enough to suggest he’s locked down one edge for 2019.
That’s not to say Tapine is a finalised product, but he will be one by the end of this contract. As we pointed out in our end-of-season review, he was part of the problem of the edge defence (although hardly the key contributor). He, with Elliot Whitehead, led the Raiders in penalties (our theory was they come from trying to slow the ruck after ineffective tackles from his colleagues). He missed more tackles in 2018 than any other season despite only playing in 16 games. There is plenty of work for Tapine to do before he is truly elite, but changes to the roster in 2018 that will improve the Raiders’ edge defence will go a long way to helping with that.
But his signature is prized because there a good times ahead for him. That he is choosing to enjoy the good times in Canberra is to the betterment of the Raiders, and a vote of confidence that he thinks they are building something worthy in Canberra.
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