Lost in the hullabaloo of the Tom Starling incident was the fact the Raiders are close to tying up their roster for the 2021 season. One space remains, and one name remains conspicuosly absent. Just why haven’t Green Machine locked in Jordan Rapana?
In the lead up to the Albert Hopoate deal we noted that the Raiders were getting close to the full complement of positions in their top 30. Sam Williams had rebuffed the overtures of the Super League, and only two spots remained. The overtures to Hopoate and the lack of clarity about how many development roster positions will be available for 2021, meant it was unclear just how the Green Machine would fit a bevy of talented players into the brace of positions. Hopoate’s signature took one spot away, leaving just one spot in the top 30 with Jordan Rapana and Kai O’Donnell still on the outside.
When O’Donnell landed a developmental deal for 2021 on the weekend, all eyes (well my eyes at least) turned to the team’s negotiations with Rapana. The delay in his signature has been interesting. We’ve noted ad nauseum in these pages that he, and the club, have both seemed keen for him to stay in Canberra. Two months ago it was spruiked he was about to sign a new deal. Yet here we are, approaching Christmas, and at the technical start of pre-season, and not a signature in sight.
I have theoretical explanations for this (fancy way of saying picked from thin air). My running theory to this point has been the Raiders have been waiting to finalise their roster, and for the league to finalise the salary cap for 2021, before inking the deal for Jordy. This is entirely speculative and based on little other than my perception of both side’s enthusiasm for a deal. The details have been in a standoff, almost seemingly since Rapana returned. That suggests money is the sticking issue, and both sides are waiting to see what’s available for Rapana before finalising the deal.
Another factor, which while not as significant, is also a factor, is Rapana’s new responsibilities in this world. Jordy welcomed a child into the world just last week. Anyone who has been there knows the lead up and immediate arrival of a little one throws all other priorities into chaos. It wouldn’t surprise me if both the Raiders, and Rapana’s manager, are giving the new family a second to settle before worrying about new deals. Similarly, as soon as Rapana manages to string more than 90 minutes of sleep in at one go, he’ll be pretty keen to solidify his future.
For Jordy this wait has narrowed his options. He damaged his free-agent value by playing out of position, and injured, for the back half of the season. If a deal isn’t reached with Canberra, then I can’t think of many sides that would have the space, or interest to add him. A notable exception will be the newly flush with cash Tigers and Storm, who both released, or will likely be releasing a player on a decent chunk (Josh Reynolds for the Tigers, Brandon Smith for the Storm). Both teams rejected Rapana earlier in the year when he was shopped to them.
Canberra also need Rapana. While people will debate whether his best is still within the grasp of his tired body, his particular set of skills (great finishing, exceptional yardage work) are not in demonstrated supply at Raiders HQ. Further, Rapana figures to play role of ‘old head’ – much in the same way that Ryan James and Sia Soliola player for the forwards, or Sam Williams plays for the halves. These players are even more important in 2021 with the likely reducing in the football department salary cap. Jarrod Croker is the only other player in the back five with over 100 NRL games to his head, and so Rapana’s varied experience is of utmost importance.
I remain optimistic this deal will be done. The Raiders have been clear about wanting to keep Rapana around, and Jordan wants to be there. There aren’t options for either side. To me this seems more like a matter if when rather than if.
If only they’d speed it up.
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