What Rapana’s Return Means

BY DAN

2020 has been a kidney stone of a year; and we’re barely a third of the way done. Bushfires, pandemics, economic catastrophe. Let’s just say there hasn’t been many high points. But like the smallest sliver of light through the darkest clouds, we’ve been given a moment to cherish. Jordy is home [insert glorious music here and maybe some angels, I dunno I’m not a choreographer]. But where does Jordan fit now? And are the Raiders in a better position to win the ‘chip with him in tow?

Rapana in 2017

As reported by a range of journalists throwing darts in the dark on Saturday, Jordan Rapana will start with the Raiders today. The scuttlebutt is it’s a two-year deal – although most reports say it’s just for tho year – which may mean the Green Machine get the last years of Rapana’s prime. It’s great to see at a personal level that Rapana is getting paid to play footy. He was only leaving the Green Machine in an attempt to make up the money he’d forgone when he left the game early in his career. He’s got family in Canberra who need looking after, and frankly in times like this I’m just happy whenever anyone finds employment.

Rapana is a proven performer. He was arguably the best winger in the game for a number of years, capable of incredible finishes, an insatiable appetite for yardage work, and a safe pair of hands under the high ball. His creativity, usually in combination with his good friend BJ Leilua, has been above and beyond for a winger, and was a big part of him leading the Raiders in tries in both 2016 and 2017 while still compiling healthy try-assist numbers (4 and 5 in 2017 and 2018).

In 2019 Rapana had the closest thing he’s had to a down year since he became a first grade regular. He injured his shoulder early in the season, had surgery, and was back weeks before he was due. Then in round 10 against the Roosters he suffered a PCL strain. Again he was back quickly. It was helpful for the Milk but it wasn’t in his own interest. He seemed to lack a step for much of the year, and never seemed like he fully recovered from the PCL in particular. One wonders if the extensive break he’s had over the last six months might actually have been good for Rapana.

So will Rapana slot in back into his spot on the right wing?

Not so fast. Curtis Scott and Nic Cotric have established an effective partnership in limited time already this season. Their connection with George Williams, and John Bateman when he returns, needs time to build. First course should be to allow this to flourish and develop over the season. Although should Scott find himself a it’s an extended period of unavailability due to his legal troubles, Rapana would slide into this spot as Cotric to right centre.

More likely is that Rapana and Bailey Simonsson fight it out on the left wing. Jordy has played in a range of positions across the Milk’s backline in his time in Canberra so I’m certain he can handle the switch of sides. There’s a question coming for Coach Stuart about how much value he puts on Bailey Simonsson’s development, and where he sees him long term. Stuart has shown a willingness to carry a back on bench, a luxury afforded to him by the big minutes his back row plays. Whoever doesn’t start at wing here will almost certainly wear 14, something that Simonsson did to great effect last season, and Michael Oldfield has done already this season.

Regardless of where he fits the Raiders are fortunate to have Rapana back. The added depth, the cover for Curtis Scott and the experience are benefits, but frankly, more significant is the addition of a player of Rapana’s quality. The Raiders have had a solid start to 2020 but were by no means world-beaters early. Canberra come out of the break better than they went in, having solved the only pre-season question that existed about the roster. The Green Machine are just better now.

After the grand final loss Rapana said he’d be back in 2020. When the NRL said no bueno I’d written it off until 2021. Jordy is home. Breath it in.

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