Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. – Andy Dufresne, “the Shawshank Redemption”
One of the most interesting rumours that has manifested as part of the worldwide disruption caused by the Covid-19 virus has been the potential return of Jordan Rapana to Canberra, or indeed elsewhere in the NRL. Jordan coming home is an unlikely but welcome possibility, and one we should hold on to.
Jordan Rapana was never meant to be a star. As we said last year the list of players that were preferred to him when he initially joined the club in 2014 was as long as it was bewildering.
Sidebar: Again, here’s a list that played in the back three ahead of Rapana in 2014: Reece Robinson, Bill Tupou, Edrick Lee, Sami Sauiluma, Matthew Allwood, and BRENKO Lee. When he did get a shot, in round 22 and round 23 it was at fullback after the Raiders moved Anthony Milford into the halves.
But Rapana had character, a complete fearlessness and abandon that he played the game with. He broke his fucking skull in the second game he played and kept playing because he doesn’t feel pain. Then 2016 happened and well, the rest was history.
It was a beautiful relationship. I’ve never met a Raiders’ fan that didn’t love Jordy. It was hard not to admire his attitude, and his ability to turn nothing into something in the blink of an eye.
And Rapana loved Canberra, or at least the Canberra Raiders. It was clear after last season that a Rapana was not interested in leaving, it was only the fact that he couldn’t stay for the money available. Family life will do that to all of us. At the time Jordan said:
Whether I have to go away somewhere for four or five months just to make up financially the money that I need to get to make ends meet, then so be itJordan Rapana to Margie McDonald on NRL.com
So I can tell you right now I’ll be back playing for the Raiders at the start of next year. [The grand final loss] has definitely fuelled the fire inside me again to want to get that premiership.Jordan Rapana to Margie McDonald on NRL.com
It’s not the first time a player has wanted to stay in Canberra but has been pushed out by the salary cap. But unusually, the Raiders were very public about their desire to keep him, and when the NRL decided that ‘this’ was the time that a player couldn’t come back from union, Josh Hodgson was unusually blunt in his assessment of the situation:
“If he goes and plays rugby union, comes back and it’s not affecting our cap and not affecting our squad members, I don’t see what the real issue is, really,”Josh Hodgson to Matt Encarnacion of the Sydney Morning Herald
Recently, the impact of Covid-19 shut down the Japanese Rugby Union competition that Rapana left the Raiders for. It lead to an interesting couple of articles by David Polkinghorne of The Canberra Times, and then a follow up from the Daily Telegraph that quoted Rapana’s manageer, Sam Ayoub as saying “If the competition is stopped in Japan, he would like to return to the Raiders.”
This was music to most fans’ ears.
So should we be treating Jordan as “nearly” back in the Green Machine? There are four obstacles in his way.
The first is the Raiders, and to be frank, that’s not really an obstacle. Canberra would love Jordan back. He would presumably push to start on the right wing, and likely move Bailey Simonsson back to a depth position if he won it. It would put the Raiders in a pretty handy position should Curtis Scott’s legal problems derail him.
The second obstacle is the NRL. Up until now the NRL has been pretty explicit about the likelihood of Rapana’s return – which was “it isn’t happening.” Now many would find this curious, given their lack of consistency on this fact with other players, and even their seeming comfort with the frankly bonkers contract offer made by the Knights to Kalyn Ponga. But whatever we may think about other situations, they’ve been pretty clear about Jordan’s position.
The third obstacle is other clubs. The Daily Telegraph has reported that other clubs are circling. I can see this being an issue because Rapana’s need for money was the reason he left Canberra in the first place. The Dogs – the rumoured home – may be have money to spare should they NRL change their mind. The Raiders have a few advantages. Firstly Rapana, and his manager have been clear that they intend to return to Canberra. Secondly, the Bulldogs are unlikely to compete for a premiership any time soon.
Further, the fact the Raiders think they have cap space now makes me wonder if the offer they can find now is better than it was this time last season. There’s already indications in previous media that Canberra has the money there to pay him, presumably in the difference between what BJ Leilua was earning, and what the Raiders are paying for him to play for Wests. This could be a bulwark against the Bulldog threat. Having said that, if a Rapana took more money from the Bulldogs, no one should begrudge him. Canberra had the chance to sign him in 2019, and they didn’t bridge the financial gap.
The final obstacle is the same one we are all facing together. The dreaded Covid-19 and the havoc it is wreaking on our communities, our health system, and less importantly but still important to me (and others), the National Rugby League. It’s one thing for Rapana to leave Japan because the virus shut down the competition, but to assume similar won’t happen in Australia requires a degree of optimism that I simply don’t possess right now. I’m hopeful that at some point we’ll point to a turning point where we started to get everything under control, and the light cracked through and we were sure things would be fine. But I do not see that today, and that makes me think any break in the NRL could be much longer than would suit Jordan or the Raiders.
After this season, Rapana can come home, provided he, the Raiders, and the Coronavirus all agree it’s ok. By that time he will have spent more 12 months out of elite sport, and normally you’d say that’s a long time. However, the uncertainty of what we all face means that the whole competition may be coming back from an extended break if and when Rapana rejoins Raiderland.
Regardless, like with most things right now I’m trying to maintain hope. Rapana coming home would be good for Canberra, both on and off the field, and I personally would be stoked to see it happen. There’s obstacles in the way, and for the large part they’re ones faced by the whole community, (notably with greater consequences elsewhere). But like my man Andy Dufresne, I’m going to hope for a good thing, because right now, it’s a good thing.