Jordan Rapana is likely to miss the next two games after being charged not once, but twice, following the courageous victory over the Melbourne Storm on Sunday.
It’s a kick in the nuts with a clog from the NRL. Not only did it seem over the top to sin-bin Rapana on the day (especially after Nelson Asofa-Solomona used the tried-and-true “he can’t disappear!” defence to get out of a similar situation), but to add a charge to the insult is particularly galling. Of course we have to ask questions of Rapana – it’s the third time he’s been suspended this season, and while in our view he shouldn’t have, it’s not ridiculous to see how the match review committee got there, or how the fact he’s been suspended before would add up to pain for the Milk. I’m not sure how to reign in Rapana (can you cage freedom? Would you try to imprison the flow of the river or the gust of the wind?), but he might need a moment of self-reflection. Canberra can’t keep losing him every other week.
Regardless, whinging won’t get the Green Machine to the promise land. As the victory on Sunday showed, the Milk are capable of beating both football teams and administrators. The problem is now the Raiders are without their only healthy, first-string starting winger. Nic Cotric missed last week surprisingly, and while it’s hoped that he’ll be back this week, Ricky Stuart’s injury lists have this paradoxical power where players who seem ‘day-to-day’ end up being out weeks, and players out for ages magically re-appear. So Cotric might return, or he might actually have lost his leg last week. Only time will tell.
The Raiders may be in search of not one but two wingers, and there isn’t even a clear solution for finding a solitary speedster. This is obviously compounded by a wider series of injuries. It’s weird to think I spent most of Monday wondering how James Schiller’s ankle would hold up. 3-4 weeks rest is better than I expected after witnessing him prone on the AAMI park grass, incapable of rising. But it’s still unfortunate for the team and him. It seems that every game he comes in he performs well, only for his body to collapse in a freak accident. This isn’t too bad, but 3-4 weeks still means Canberra is in search of a solution.
And there isn’t other clear options. Semi Valemei, who was a centre earlier in the year but a winger in the past, was injured recently too. He’s due back for round 19 and it might be just in time. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, who was scheduled to play NSW Cup last week until succumbing to a hamstring injury, may be an option if he’s healthy enough to play. Given that Stuart said he was playing Cup footy to increase his match fitness, that might be a long bow. But it’s just as likely that was a polite lie; a recognition that Xavier Savage is the future and needs the minutes in first grade. Nicoll-Klokstad has played wing in the NRL, but that was in 2017, and in 2017 Luke Bateman was a try scoring machine. Is Charnze’s hamstring healthy enough? Was Sticky telling fibs? Only time will tell. Given an opportunity he wouldn’t disappoint. Both are these opportunities would be a gamble of fit and health.
Another option may be to gamble on youth. There’s plenty of talent in Cup that could theoretically come up to first grade. Elijah Anderson has played first grade (briefly) but has only mustered
four five games in Cup this season. Manase Kaho and Michael Asomua are clearly talented but so young that it’s hard to gauge how they’d got at top line. Brad Morkos is another pegged for bigger things, but it would require shifting Seb Kris to the wing. These feel risky until you realise James Schiller was ‘just’ a Cup player before Rapana shoulder charged someone in the All-Stars game before the season started. It’s just a bit of history repeating.
By default Albert Hopoate remains the only viable option. Given he’s had his knee put back together several times in his short career, it’s weird to think of him taking up a position based on health. Indeed, he wouldn’t have seen the field the weekend if not for Rapana’s HIA. But he did, and in 11 minutes seemed solid enough. It’s crazy that he may be a first choice option this week, but that’s what the depth chart looks like.
So it seems likely that Albert, and hopefully Nic Cotric will be named this week. God knows how Sticky will fit a utility back into the bench mix – there isn’t any left. Perhaps Nicoll-Klokstad gets the utility back position and we hope for the best, or covers for Cotric if he’s still no good. They may as well put the team-list together with sticky tape and prayers.
And then they can hope that no one else gets suspended.
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