One of the best sites in the rugby league world, the Rugby League Eye Test (click this link, or follow on twitter here) produces a series of stats that basically identify which players are most involved in the game. This is done by total involvement, as well as splitting out that offensive and defensive involvement by run percentage and tackle percentage. Essentially it measures how much a player does of each against how long they’re on the field.
Safe to say, the players that usually appear on these lists are forwards. When you’re measuring a percentage of runs, or tackles against the time a player is on the field, it’s pretty hard for any back to get high on that number. Forwards get opportunities on every set to prove their involvement, and their minutes are limited. So when it comes to measuring proportion against time, they simply rate higher. It’s still a really useful measurement of quantity of involvement, or effort if you want to get moral about it, but it’s rare (though not unheard of) to see backs find their way into this list.
So colour me interested when upon release of the numbers from Canberra’s round twenty game against Newcastle that I saw Jordan Rapana in the top 20 on run percentage. The only back on the list, it meant that he essentially took the proportion of carries normally reserved for the most workhorse of middle forwards.
In this game he took 27 carries. It came a week after he took 25 for 250 plus metres, and he followed it up against the Dragons with 19 carries, 167m, 66 post contact metres and seven tackle breaks last week. Since he’s moved to fullback Rapana is averaging nearly 24 carries a game, 213 metres, 64 post contact metres, nearly ten (10!) tackle breaks and a line break a game. It’s an astounding workload to get through, and reflects the character of Rapana. This is a guy that broke his flipping skull and kept playing after all. His desire, and will, to do whatever is needed, and to compete with those trying to bring him down every. damn. carry, is simply breathtaking.
It also speaks to how important the back three are to Canberra’s (and most teams) style. Rapana is essentially doing a similar job to what Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad has done in the past for the Raiders, and more often than not I’ve wondered if a normal human could handle this role. Nicoll-Klokstad is driven by a heart as big as my love for Josh Hodgson. Rapana however, runs like he’s angry at the ground and the opposition spoiled the Sixth Sense for him. There’s a fury to his work. Earlier in the year Caleb Aekins filled that role differently. A less physical player he got through less yardage work (and less defence but that’s not the focus here) and the Milk suffered.
It’s hard to not be worried about whether this workload is sustainable for Jordan. Rapana is turning 32 at the end of this week, and he sat out the last few minutes of the Dragons game with what appeared to be cramp (or a well taken opportunity to get Elijah Anderson on the field). Regardless, asking Rapana to lead the team up the field as though he the backs answer to Josh Papalii feels like something that should be avoided if the Raiders are keen to succeed the rest of the year. It’s not that Rapana can’t do it, it’s that they still need to him to do other fullback things (cover in defence, get into good position for kicks, link of offensive sweeps – you know, that stuff). His carry is amazing, but he shouldn’t have to do as much work as he’s been doing.
Regardless, it’s impressive, and while we’ve said this before, is enough to hope the Raiders finalise a deal with him for next year. If they’re going to succeed, this year or next, chances are Rapa’s resilience is going to be a big part of why.