Jordan Rapana’s Unfinished Business

BY DAN

Last year when it was reported that the Raiders wouldn’t be able to bring back Jordan Rapana it was heartbreaking. But as Raiders’ chief Don Furner revealed recently, we may be in for more hurt after this season. Is there any way to bring him back?

I’ve never met a fan of the Green Machine who doesn’t love Jordan Rapana. He may have started elsewhere but he was built in Canberra. He came after spending years on mission, having barely cracked first grade at the Titans in his time there. It took him too long to make his home in first grade. He was never meant to be a star, but that’s what he became. The talent clearly drove it, but more important was the sheer determination his demonstrated in his play. There wasn’t a dirty carry he wouldn’t take, bouncing off defenders, pushing others to the ground, as he struggled for extra metres. His partnership with BJ Leilua is remembered for its brilliance but the unsung work shined just a bright.

When he left last year it screamed unfinished business. He was leaving for money – that was clear within minutes of the grand final ending – and we’d never begrudge a working man trying to maximise his pay. It was as frustrating the NRL chose this chance to enforce their rules as it was happily confusing when they overturned the decision recently without any rationalisation or justification (not that we’re complaining). The Raiders may not win a grand final this year but it always felt as though Rapana had as much right to be part of the fight as anyone.

So we were happy he came home and has been allowed to play. Initial scuttlebutt said it was a two year deal, which quickly changed to only this year. We always hoped an extra year would be added as the season worked along. So it was saddening to see Raiders head honcho Don Furner indicate that 2019 will likely play out again at the end of 2020.

As he told Behind the Limelight, the Raiders would love to keep Jordy, but in all likelihood the challenges of cap space will make it hard for them to reach agreement.

To get Jordan back was an absolute bonus. We can only sorta fit him in for this year. I’m not sure we can fit him in for next year. We’d love to…

Don Furner to

This suggests two things to me. Firstly, and probably most obviously, the Milk’s cap space is going to be tight over the coming years. Jarrod Croker and Jack Wighton were upgraded in the off-season and word is that Nic Cotric’s deal is in the pipeline. These all eat into the available space and part of the challenges of being successful.

It’s hard not to see Luke Bateman’s departure in the same vein. It wasn’t said, but it seems likely that the Raiders have made it clear they won’t be extending him when his deal ends at the end of the year. He’ll be looking for another side, and rumours have suggested similar about Jack Murchie. One wonders what this tight space might mean for people like Michael Oldfield too, particularly as players like Harley Smith-Shields and Andre Niko come through the ranks.

That doesn’t even account for the still outstanding matter of upgrading John Bateman. I have no inside information whatsoever (like ever, just in case you’re wondering), but it wouldn’t surprise me if when Don Furner thinks about what cap space he has for next year, he’s trying to work out how it can make sure Bateman is a Raider as long as he’s in Australia. Similarly Sia Soliola is up for a new deal, and even an outsider like myself can see the importance of Soliola to the club beyond the playing field.

This doesn’t mean there wouldn’t be money for Jordan, just that the money the Raiders may have can’t compete with what he would get on the open market. There’s been rumours all year about the Tigers and the Bulldogs being interested, and if they were (an admittedly big if) they’re respective cap situations would suggest they’d still be keen come November. More to the point, Rapana’s even more likely to head back to Japanese rugby. He’ll be 31 when he’s reign to sign this deal, and while he may have plenty of prime left from my perspective, NRL teams will be much less likely to want to take pay for the full price and risk of an older player than talent starved rugby.

So we can see why Don Furner is suggesting it would be a short stay. After all it took a global pandemic to bring Jordy home this year, and the disparity between the Raiders cap position and how much Rapana can get isn’t getting any smaller.

It’s upsetting to think about. The clock on Jordan’s time with the Green Machine seems to be ticking, and this time there may not be way to bring him back. When he left last year he told Margie McDonald of NRL.com

There’s a lot of unfinished business here. My plans are to come back here… I want to stay here and win a premiership with these boys – that’s my goal, that’s always been my goal…

Well there’s only one thing left to do then.

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