When Jordan Rapana returned to the Canberra Raiders during the Coronavirus shutdown, he faced difficult odds to re-establish himself as one of the best wingers in the competition, let alone find his old spot on the wing. That he overcame those odds to again become the Green Machine’s starting left winger should surprise no one. Jordan Rapana has been overcoming the odds since he came to Canberra.
Jordan Rapana first joined the Raiders in 2013 on a wing and a prayer. He’d departed the NRL in 2009 to spend two years in England on a Mormon mission. After that he’d bounced around rugby union before landing in Canberra’s lap in 2013. At that point, nearly five years since his last game of rugby league, you would have got long-odds for him to make a serious dent on the squad.
But Jordan found a way. We’ve written this before, but this was the list of people the Raiders tried at wing before 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 he earned his first start and proceeded to play on when he BROKE HIS FREAKING SKULL. To Jordan, a smashed head was just another obstacle to overcome. He sat out the rest of the season, got his head sorted, and simply established himself as an every game starter in 2015.
Then Jordan decided, just to make it a bit of a challenge that he’d become elite. Turning 27 during the 2016 season, Rapana established himself at the top of the competition in just his second year as an established starter. He led the league in tries, broke a Raiders record that had stood since the golden era, and forced his way into the New Zealand side. He would have won winger of the year but that was given to Josh Mansour is the biggest award robbery since Crash won the best picture Oscar (or more accurately evidence that the positional awards at the Dally M’s are a bit borked). He got it in 2017 instead, which is nice because it was just evidence that 2016 wasn’t a fluke, and that he was just getting due notice for what he had achieved and the obstacles he had overcome.
This year Jordan has jacked up the degree of difficulty. He forced his way back into the side on the back of six months out of the game, no pre-season, and a flipping global pandemic. Stuck halfway around the world, unable to train, unable to prepare, he still managed to come back and compel Coach Stuart into playing him (even when there wasn’t an obvious position for him at least initially). When he came back there were so many questions. Was his quiet 2019 a result of his duel injuries, or was his body giving up? How do you get match fitness when there is no football? Is the sheer determination to run over every body they put in front of you like you run over the obstacles in your life enough to succeed.
The answers: yes, no, I don’t know burpees or something, and yes.
So what did he do? In two starts since he got back he’s had 167 and 170 metres on the ground. He had 70 plus post contact metres against the Tigers, helping re-establish a ground game from the back three that had been sorely missing in his absence against the Knights. He did drop a ball in a try scoring opportunity in round three, but we’ll allow him one error. Without match fitness, without a pre-season, Rapana has simply gone out and re-established himself as a top tier winger. He’s even said he’ll play as a replacement middle forward as needed because there’s possibly nothing on the football field he can’t do.
We should stop being surprised.
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