Jordan Rapana runs the ball like he’s angry with the ground, the defender, and all the ancestors that brought those two things to be in his way. His fend is more Chong Li than rugby league. He’ll run until he collapses, then he’ll puke out that lactic and run some more. All this has earned him another two years with Canberra.
If you hadn’t been watching Rapana since his debut in 2015 you might think this was a contract thing. You’ve seen it before. Player in the last year of a deal works his butt off to ensure there’s food on the table. It’s a tale as old as time, true as it can be. Jordan, is not that man, but rather a beautiful beast of player that has always given his all, and then a little more should the situation require. Sometimes that’s actually a problem that needs to be reigned in, but it’s the kind of issue a coach would prefer than the opposite. I mean, this dude played out a game with a broken skull. He knows not pain nor limitation.
Any pretence that Rapana is on his way out has been dispelled this year. 12 tries, 5 try-assists, and precisely two (2) games this season in which he didn’t crack 100 metres on the ground. He’s averaging a team leading 151 metres on the ground, a team leading six tackle-busts a game (125 in total on the season, good for third in the entire competition), has a team leading 17 line breaks on the season, a game saving tackle and a team leading 8 times of causing fist pumps in casa Sportressa. Adding to this that he’s taken over the goal-kicking because he can do everything.
Remember that time he kicked a 40/20? Good times. Also remember that time he missed the game winning field goal? Less good times, but still instructive of his willingness and ability to do almost anything the team needs, and a willingness to put his hand up and take a shot, consequences be damned. He’s displayed that desire plenty of times over his career in Canberra, such as when he played much of the 2020 season at centre, despite being injured, and patently unsuited for the role, simply because the Raiders didn’t have a better option. Some commentators got to the end of that season and thought that meant he was done. That has been proven very wrong this season. By the numbers Rapana has had his third most tries in a season for his career, third most try-assists, third most line-breaks, and highest average running metres (no doubt aided by those games at fullback, and more inflated stats by Vlandoball). He may not be 2016-2017 Rapana, but he’s still damn good.
Rapana’s future at Canberra will provide the veteran ballast to the youth movement emerging in the form of Matt Timoko, Harley Smith-Shields and Xavier Savage. His approah to the game, and his utility, means that it should not present much of an obstacle to fulfilment of their potential. And with the squad transitioning away from the leadership of Croker, Hodgson and Soliola, it’s handy to have someone around that knows where Canberra came from, how they got where they have been, and what it takes to get there again and stay there.
There might be a concern with the length of this deal. I must admit there’s an angle here, similar with the Whitehead deal, whereby Canberra didn’t need to put this much time into a deal at this stage of the career. Bizarrely other teams haven’t made much of play for Jordy, so there’s an argument that Canberra should have extended him on a year to year basis to allow them the most flexibility in managing their cap space. I can understand it, but I think Canberra are taking into account the need to build some good-will into the squad mentality given the more mercenary way some other squad positions have been handled recently. Canberra are showing loyalty to players like Rapana and Whitehead that give all they have and more to make sure the squad gets what it needs rather than what they want. It’s calculated I guess, but what in culture and roster management isn’t?
I honestly don’t know if the expanse of this deal will mean Rapana will see out his career in Canberra but I suspect that’s the case. If so he deserves to ride of into the sunset a winner, after a lap of honour in round one of 2024 as part of the celebrations of the 2023 premiership winning Raiders. It would be a fitting way for a man who has given everything for the club to be given that gift in return.