Breaking down the ongoing Rapana chatter


Reports emerged on the weekend that Jordan Rapana wants to return to the NRL. For Raiders’ fans starved of good news about, well, anything, this was a welcome source of hope. Reports, however, intimated that Canberra will need to fight to keep Rapana in green.

It’s worth acknowledging that the latest reports seem to be making more out of a brief Rapana interview than it deserved. Rapana’s comments more acknowledged the inherent uncertainty of his situation, and outlined his desire to return to the NRL. They were reasonable comments in themselves. The immediate connection of his comments to a fight to keep him in Canberra wasn’t part of what he was saying at all. If there was any sort of desire by him or his manager to drive up his cost to the Raiders by being ambivalent or indirect, I didn’t interpret it here.

The ongoing nature of this “background chatter” is interesting. It could reflect the fact there’s not many stories to pursue right now, so digging in a bit about a player of Rapana’s talent is at least better than writing another list (wait, am I talking about me or journalists now?). It’s not clear to me that anything has changed, other than the wider context of his predicament has become murkier.

The attraction of Rapana is more than nostalgia for what was. While Rapana was injured and below his best in 2019, he still is a dynamic ball runner, brilliant in both space and yardage work. If the Raiders were to re-acquire his services he would not only provide a superb starter, but also a useful back-up plan to manage the Curtis Scott’s legal situation – it would be very easy to slide Cotric one across should Scott be out for any period. It’s not clear if the Green Machine would be willing to separate Scott and Cotric so early in their budding relationship, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Rapana could play left wing if needed.

There is an assumption here that Coach Stuart may decide he’s happy with his current backs and that he’s unwilling to spend money to keep Rapana around, but that wouldn’t square with his, or the rest of the sides’, public statements about Rapana’s importance to the club.

Even if the Raiders want him back, there remains an array of impediments.

Firstly the lack of certainty in the status of the NRL in 2020 force him to consider other clubs. So many of the details of any return for the NRL (be it in May or later) remain unaccounted for. As these details are bedded-down it may create incentives for Rapana to look elsewhere. No-one knows what the salary cap or salary structures will look like, or what roster sizes will be. Rumours had the Raiders retaining a roster spot and some spare cash for Rapana, but will that evaporate with the shake-out of Project Apollo and the increasingly autocratic Peter V’Landy’s desired structures.

The NRL has also been clear that they wouldn’t allow the Raiders to sign Rapana for 2020 due to his foray to union. This obviously didn’t go ahead, but it would at least require the Raiders secure a change of mind from the governing body. I wouldn’t guess what the outcome would be, but the time it takes to resolve the situation would also increase the incentive for Rapana to seek greater certainty elsewhere.

Even if the majority of this organisational uncertainty is resolved, other teams can likely offer Rapana more money than the Raiders. Canterbury was rumoured to be ready to make a big offer, and has since gotten rid of Jayden Okunbor and Corey Harawira-Naera. The money available to Rapana will likely be a bigger outside the ACT. Given what has happened to his earning capacity in the last six months, and his desire for one last big pay day to support him and his family, one could completely understand if he was to choose the money and security of another club like Canterbury.

For his part Rapana has also been vocal about his desire to return to Canberra, most notably in the wake of the 2019 grand final. He is admirably committed to the club. He also has family in Canberra, and he was keen to get ‘home’ as soon as the Coronavirus saw him leave Japan. In times like this we all want to look after our families, and that would no doubt increase the likelihood Rapana would want to stay in Canberra.

It seems likely that all things being equal (or stable?) Rapana’s preference to stay in Canberra would likely shake out. This would be a major boon for the Raiders, and frankly a rare sliver of light in an otherwise dark universe. But the incentives for him to leave, and obstacles to his return are real. I hope he comes home.

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