Jordan Rapana wasn’t even meant to be here this year. And now Don Furner has identified as a key signature for the future.
At the end of 2019 it had become clear that Rapana’s financial needs outmatched the ability of the Canberra Raiders to meet them. Jordy was off to Japanese rugby. Who could begrudge him? He’d given everything to make it with the Canberra Raiders. Never forget he broke his head early in his Raiders career, and just kept playing because the man is different. So when he said goodbye to god’s country, most weren’t the slightest bit angry, just annoyed the NRL would make it impossible for him to return in 2020.
What a world of change has occurred since then. A virus ripped apart Jordan’s stay in Japan, as well as the world and suddenly he was back in Canberra. The NRL’s new administration decided the gray area around Rapana’s situation was enough to allow him back onto the field (they later abandoned the rule and the appearance of any principle by letting Sonny Bill back into the league because you know, fuck it why not).
When he rejoined the Raiders there were enough question marks about his match fitness, and age, to make less discerning judges of his play think twice about his role in the side. To be fair neither we, nor the Milkmen’s hierarchy for that matter, were entirely certain what role Rapana would play when he returned. It wasn’t going to be a long stay. Don Furner admitted as much to the Beyond the Limelight podcast, telling them the cap situation meant they’d struggle to keep Rapana around longer than 2020. Everyone just knew that Jordy was better off in Canberra, and the rest would work itself out.
That’s exactly what happened. Jordy has now played every position across the back five except Jarrod Croker’s. He’s played as a utility middle off the bench. He’s slotted in at centre halfway through a game, one of the hardest positions to play defence, and managed to hold on against the Lambourghini of left-side attacks in the Roosters. He’s been moved to fullback halfway through another, pulled off a try-saver to basically win the Milk a game.
This weekend he started at fullback for the first time since 2015. He wasn’t perfect – he let too many kicks hit grass, he didn’t get off the line quick enough to stop Reece Robson’s early try, and I don’t think he managed to throw a pass that wasn’t part of a kick return. But when key things needed to happen Rapana made metres (24 runs for 192 metres including one 40 metre job right up the guts that got the Raiders out of their half for one of their brief moments of fresh air in the second half. Cooper Cronk called him the best on the field (though Jordan notably disagreed with this asssessment).
What was a short-term stint is now likely to be extended. John Bateman and Nic Cotric’s departures have freed up space in the Raiders cap that Corey Harawira-Naera and Ryan James haven’t filled. There are plenty of people that need to be kept after 2020 (Siliva Havili, Tom Starling, Michael Oldfield, Sia Soliola) but Don Furner this weekend identified Rapana as a key signature for the future. It reflects the team’s ‘salt-and-pepper’ style of recruiting, finding the old, wise heads like James, Rapana, and Soliola (fingers crossed) to nurture the young talent like Horsburgh, Smith-Shields, Guler and Valeima.
It also reflects Rapana’s importance to the club, in playing multiple positions across the backline, in his role as a leader for the younger brigage coming through. He’ll be 32 if the team extends him for another two years. There’s no doubt he’s lost a step but it’s not terminal. When a guy will play with a broken head, when he had multiple years out of the game early in his career, and when he’s only been playing every week for five or six years, then I think he might have enough in the tank to be useful through the rest of his contract. He’s still quick enough, and plays with a power outmatched by most of his peers. He’s also a smarter player than before.
Rapana has gone from not in the side and not in the country, to home with a short-stay hopefully becoming permanent. It’s a stunning turn of events, but then is anything this year normal.
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