Jordan Rapana was the latest Canberra Raider to find himself in trouble with the police when he was caught drink driving on the Sunshine Coast. He escaped substantial action from the legal process – just a fine and a suspended licence – but there will be more ramifications from this, for Jordan, and the club.
Let’s start with the obvious stuff. This, like the Starling incident, only provide more evidence to the now unfortunately obvious conclusion that the Canberra players have a problem with alcohol. This is not to say the Milk are drinking more than their counterparts at other clubs, but it is too often leading to trouble. This is now the 7th alcohol-related incident in the last 12 months (according to the good people at the Green Machine Podcast). If it wasn’t already leading to serious questions within the club about their relationship with alcohol, this should be the final straw.
From my perspective this is as bad as any other incident lately, and made worse by the fact that it was theoretically a leader and an experienced player at the club. In such a crucial offseason for the Milk, it’s maddening to see senior players behaving like this. Getting intoxicated is one thing, but the next step of putting other people’s lives in danger is another. It’s infuriating because at Rapan’s age you have the knowledge (and the money) to be doing anything but get in a car. It makes solutions that much harder because the normal approach is to get experienced players to reinforce and establish existing norms with the rest of the squad. When it is someone that should be a leader at the club behaving like this, it just reduces the options for remedy. What’s worse is that the other experienced players that might provide leadership at this time have either left, are leaving, or are past offenders. There’s too many players saying “don’t do what I did” and not enough saying “follow me”.
At some point questions have to be asked about how Coach Stuart will address this. He’s not responsible for its occurrence, but he can send a strong message and set standards that go some way to ensuring it doesn’t happen again. In the past he’s pre-emptively suspended players, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see that occur again. The word around the traps is that the NRL will be taking substantial action, and he may hope to show good faith for the NRL. Coreys Horsburgh and Harawira-Naera got a handful of games for similar incidents last year, but the fact that no one is learning their lesson could lead the NRL to take a more heavy handed approach.
Regardless, Sticky needs something more than a disapproving look and a voluntary suspension. I’m not sure what that looks like, but public recognition that this is happening too much, and buy-in from the players that they’ll do everything they can to make it stop, is a start. A booze ban is blaming everyone for the behaviour of individuals, but after 7 different incidents it becomes more reasonable than not. At some point this will have impacts greater than just on-field and in-house. Fans and sponsors will eventually start asking if they want to be associated with such behaviour. And for a club that finds fans and sponsors in shorter supply than bigger markets, this is simply a pathway they cannot afford to go down.
The Raiders will no doubt miss Rapana. His yardage work, ability to break tackles and willingness to fight with every ounce of energy he has will be sorely missed for however many games he is suspended. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the coming battle between Bailey Simonsson and Xavier Savage for a wing spot next year will be delayed while Jordan watches from the sidelines. Like with the Horsburgh and Harawira-Naera episodes, the Raiders are lucky that this incident happened at a position with depth.
I guess that’s nice, but it is hardly succour to the seething anger most fans will be feeling right now. Rapana was a favourite, of this blog and the fan base more generally. It seems like the horribleness of 2021 has found a way to catch everyone in its grasp. I can only hope Rapana, and everyone at the club, does everything they can to learn their lesson and make sure this never happens again. I won’t hold my breath.