Replacing Rapa

BY DAN

It’s likely to be just one game, but the Canberra Raiders are really going to miss Jordan Rapana this week.

The motto of the 2022 Raiders may as well be “nothing easy”. They’ve got plenty of injuries, not in the least already missing two or three of their starters in the back five (depending on how you squint). Rapana, their most experienced back available, picked up a charge for a most rookie of decisions to kick out in the tackle on the weekend. It’ll be at least the third game he’s missed this year from suspension, none of which came from smart decisions. Just Rapa being Rapa hey?

It’s a shame because stability and brutality from the back three has been such an important part of Canberra’s return to relevance in recent weeks. Rapa has been a huge part of that. He’s provided important work on exit sets coming out of the backfield. His 99m on the weekend was the first time since round 7 that he hadn’t smashed the ton, primarily through brutal and tough runs. He’s basically averaging four tackle breaks a game, which is elite, and also in line with what he does pretty much every year.

That’s what makes Jordy so special. He’s the back five equivalent of Josh Papalii, taking the hardest runs when the ruck is slower than me counting past ten. He finds someone in the line, pushes them like he’s starting shit at the pub, and unlike most pub heroes, follows through as though his opponent stole his dog. He gets metres, quick rucks, and more importantly gets the Milk about of trouble so regularly it could me a Mentos ad series (you pictured Rapa doing the Mentos smile didn’t you?). Add to this a general level of safety in defence and particularly under the high ball and you’ve got a rolled gold weapon.

That yardage has been huge for the Milk. The metres have been nice, but the spillover effects have been that the Raiders bigs have been able to get a break. When you’re playing near 60 minutes (as Joe Tapine did last weekend), that becomes critical. Nic Cotric has also been excellent, and Xavier Savage has improved in recent weeks, but Jordy is the leader in this regard, and it’s only going to be harder for the remaining players.

It’s also a problem because there’s no easy to fit solutions. James Schiller is the next name in the depth chart. He had 73 metres across two starting games at the beginning of the season, and one carry against the Eels. He’s been more productive in Cup footy (which is probably how he found himself on the bench for first grade) but it’s hardly resounding and will require a big step up. Putting him in a back three with Xavier Savage puts a lot of pressure on two rookies. It’s not ideal, and it makes those games Schiller got in the top line earlier in the year all the more important. He is probably the best option available.

After that it gets even more murky. Semi Valemei is another option, but he’s been playing exclusively centres this year (even in a recent Cup appearance). Even if you were keen for him to reprise his hard-running winger role from 2020 and 2021, it seems a cruel decision to make him prove his ability under the high ball has magically improved when Adam Reynolds will possibly be the one testing him. Elijah “the next GI” Anderson would have been an option if not for the fact he only returned from injury last weekend. Albert Hopoate has picked up plenty of metres in Cup footy but hasn’t been part of the first grade conversation since he was signed at the club.

It’s clear there’s no perfect option. The Raiders really are at the limit of their depth chart. Whoever they pick will be a bit of a guess. But that’s ok. 2022 has been a bit like that. It won’t be easy, but then again, nothing is.

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